Love, From Modena

“People think I’m disciplined. It is not discipline. It is devotion.
There is a great difference.”
Luciano Pavarotti

His mother worked in a cigar factory. His father was a baker. And the north central Italian city of Modena was the place where he was born in 1935. Seventy-one years later, after touring the world, touching millions, popularizing the art of opera like no one else, and reaching the highest heights of fame, Pavarotti would die in Modena, his birthplace, a contented man. Mighty medieval province of Modena. It is the sports car capital of the world – Italy’s “Motor City” – with Maserati, Lamborghini, and Ferrari calling the town home. Enzo Ferrari himself was born and raised in Modena. And then there’s the balsamic vinegar, which the artisans of Modena have been fermenting for hundreds of years. Sexy sports cars and balsamic vinegar are great of course, but Modena, Italy will forever hold as its most esteemed legacy, giving to the world the greatest tenor who ever lived.

The orange stucco rooftops of Modena:

A couple of weeks ago, I posed for open life drawing at the National Art League in Queens, a modeling gig I’ve been doing for over a decade. We turned on WQXR classical radio, as we often do, as a musical accompaniment. During my second 20 minute set, the transcendent voice of Pavarotti surged out of the speakers, and my eyes began to well up with tears. My reaction was not just the emotional response to his magnificent voice, although that certainly played a part. It was more than that. It elicited complex, painful feelings in me about what’s been going on in my life, namely familial relationships and revelations about those relationships that I still can’t fully accept or process. My mother no longer contacts me. She has, incredibly, removed herself from the sphere of my life and has, instead, decided to consign all her motherly love, loyalty, and attention over to her son. Her manipulative, self-serving son. He has brainwashed her, and it’s been distressing to witness over these past several months. It’s as if my mother has forgotten that she has TWO children, and whatever genuine, loving bonds used to exist in this dysfunctional family are now circling the drain.

Pavarotti’s voice is affecting not just because of its raw power, but also because of its purity, and by purity I mean love; the love that propels it through melody and dramatic arcs, in recording after recording, and live performance after live performance. Pavarotti stated many times in interviews that his sheer love of singing and desire to spread joy through music are what animated him. As I posed that night at the National Art League and my emotions stirred and tears dropped from eyes, I became intensely aware of the moment – where I was and what I was doing. It too was about love. I was modeling. Engaged in the livelihood that breathed new life into me 13 years ago and that I love with every fiber of my being. I was also in the presence of friends that I love, specifically my longtime friend Paul who was monitor for the session that night. Paul has shown me, in ways I won’t go into, what a thoroughly decent, upstanding, and genuine person he is. It’s an honor to know him. He is full of love.

At the Opera by Georges Jules Victor Clairin, 1900. I had to post this not just for the opera theme but, girl, those gloves! Rocking the whole outfit 🙂

Pavarotti’s quote about devotion strikes a chord with me in that it distills achievement, success, happiness, gratification  – whatever you want to call it – into a kind of simplicity.  And simplicity shouldn’t be a bad word. Relationships between people function best when the essence of their connection is solidly simple. How often do we hear of a break up because things “got complicated”? Or that someone felt the need to abandon a career because things “got complicated”? Devotion is love, and once love grasps us in its arms, our vision, purpose, and dedication become clearer. I don’t love art modeling because I’m good at it. I’m good at it because I love it. As a child of a working class family in Modena, Pavarotti could have become a small farmer, shoemaker, or vinegar fermenter. Those are all fine vocations. But his love steered him to singing, and it’s wholly evident in his voice. The love that once existed in my family has become tragically compromised – and made complicated – by one toxic person wielding his self-interest like a weapon. If only the simplicity of love had been upheld, and fought for, and acted upon free of bias, we wouldn’t be in this situation. But here we are.

In February of 1972, a 36 year old Pavarotti secured his place in opera immortality when he performed the aria “Ah! Mes amis, quell jour de fête!” from Donizetti’s comic opera La Fille du Regiment at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. The aria contains a near impossible nine high C’s, which Pavarotti executed with inspired, love-drenched gusto. With devotion, if you will. The crowd went wild, and the young tenor was summoned back onstage for a record 17 curtain calls. Let’s listen to Pavarotti singing that aria for our Music Monday. It is not a live recording of that momentous night in 1972, but Pavarotti’s love and devotion are in full force. You can skip ahead to around 4:40 to get to the magic 🙂

Alphabet City with Fred

Today is the birthday of my very dear friend Fred Hatt. Happy Birthday Fred!!!! 🙂 Fred and I are both celebrating significant birthdays this year: 60 for him, 50 for me (July). So to commemorate our milestone decades we plan to prolong the party through the summer and deal with aging in the best possible way; by having fun, appreciating each other, and enjoying the big city we both call home.

Last Thursday night Fred and I attended an event in the East Village; “I Ching Alchemy” sculptures and video projection show by our mutual friend Lili White. It was held outdoors in Le Petit Versailles Garden between Avenue A and B – the section of downtown Manhattan known as ‘Alphabet City’. Nobody is better at converting dumpy urban lots into community gardens than East Villagers. They have a gift for it. The space of the Petit Versailles garden was, decades ago, an auto chop shop. Now it’s flower beds, trees, little rock-lined paths, pottery shards, empty picture frames, glass balls, mirrors, ribbons, strings of skull head lights, Tibetan figurines, loose tiles, and any quirky found object that occupies a spot. A busted ceramic urn? Stick it in there. It’s a garden folks, East Village style. The residents down there are fiercely civic-minded, and they will take care of things themselves if the city ignores them. Actually, they prefer it that way. And if raising rents force some thrift shop or vinyl record store out of business they have a collective meltdown 😆

Hanging out with Fred means seeing him suddenly whip out his camera to snap a photo. Nothing escapes this man’s eye! He spotted the shadow shapes that formed on the brick face of the building, just around dusk. With the warm glow of the light strings it created an interesting vision. So I took a photo myself:

The 1958 baby and the 1968 baby 🙂 Fred and I, selfie in the garden. My brilliant, beautiful best buddy whose friendship I value beyond words. The very first friend I made as an artist’s model.

Drawing of me by Fred from 2015. Created at Figureworks Gallery in Brooklyn:

It’s not a Music Monday but we’ll have a Music Tuesday instead! As Lili’s video installation projected onto the side of the building, a fantastic old song accompanied her images. A great choice that truly reflected the spirit of the evening. Please enjoy “Wake Up Everybody” by Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes, a classic R&B song from 1975. Buoyant, catchy, uplifting, meaningful. So good. You’ll be up and dancing by the end. 🙂

Cantrix

Portrait commissions may have allowed John Singer Sargent to make a name for himself, but we know that he eventually grew tired of that work despite being in great demand as a portraitist for upper crust aristocrats. If you do a Google Image Search of John Singer Sargent you’re bombarded with painting after painting of affluent men and women posing stiffly in their elegant clothes, gazing straight at the viewer, their airs of superiority wafting off the canvases.

Recently I came across a Sargent portrait that stood out from the others and I suspected that it wasn’t a commissioned work. After a few minutes of research I discovered that it was, in fact, not a commission. Sargent created it purely from the inspiration he felt from the subject, not because he was contracted to do so. She was Mabel Batten, born Mabel Veronica Hatch in Great Britain in 1856. Like most of Sargent’s circle, Mabel was a member of the high society class but she was also an accomplished mezzo-soprano, composer, trained musician and patroness of the arts. Sargent painted this portrait depicting her in the euphoric throes of singing, with eyes closed, mouth open, and those trademark Sargent painterly brushstrokes on the dress. Mabel is in a full blown musical trance here:

And no that’s not some sloppy cropping on my part. Sargent deliberately cut off the arms in an ingenious composition choice which creates greater intimacy and intensity. Also, I like the gesture of her left hand on her hip. Nice touch.

This Music Monday post continues with more female songstress exultation. The word ‘cantrix’, by the way, means a female singer, as my Latin language obsession pokes through from time to time. I posted back in December about my niece Olivia’s original music and I’m thrilled to report that she continues to kick ass 🙂 Her latest single is Sapphire and I would be honored if my readers had a listen to this outstanding song. Really, it’s outstanding! This girl is on a roll. Ms Mabel would love this, and you will too. Here’s Olivia Paris:

New Year Notes

:typing blog post wearing four layers, gloves, ski mask, long johns, while guzzling piping hot coffee directly out of the pot:

Hello gang, and Happy New Year! And also brrrrrr! So 2018 is starting with a deep freeze across the country, with headlines that read “Cold Night Shelters to Open in Central Florida”. Excuse me, what? There’s snow falling in Tallahassee and some ominous thing called a ‘bomb cyclone’ poised to hit us here on the east coast. Sounds delightful o_O

If only single digit temperatures actually inspired the cool, stylish elegance of this lithograph, ‘Winter’, by Art Nouveau master Alphonse Mucha. Nice robe!


I hope you all had a joyous New Year’s Eve celebration, however you chose to spend it. I used to go out on New Year’s Eve but not anymore. I prefer to stay home and have unwittingly established what has now become my own New Year’s Eve ‘tradition’; listening to WQXR’s Classical Countdown. I enjoy it so much! The final number one spot belongs, always, to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, which really is the ideal piece of music to bring you to the stroke of midnight. Exultant, profound, triumphant, brimming with passion. Pure genius. It is orchestral fireworks, if you will.

When the Ninth Symphony concludes at midnight, Beethoven continues when WQXR plays his arrangement of ‘Auld Lang Syne’. Beethoven was a genius but a genius who, like everyone else, still had to make a living. He supplemented his income composing popular music for his day and doing arrangements of Scottish, English, and Welsh folk songs on commission. The recording WQXR played on New Year’s Eve was Beethoven’s arrangement performed by The New York Vocal Arts Ensemble. And it’s lovely. Beautiful voices with Beethoven’s musical artistry. For those who are interested, this is the album -> Beethoven: Folk Song Arrangements

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Happy New Year everyone! Keep warm, stay safe, and I’ll see you back here very soon 🙂

Olivia Paris Music 🎵

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that “music … will help dissolve your perplexities .. and in time of care and sorrow, will keep a fountain of joy alive in you.” For the past few Decembers on this blog I’ve published a post on Christmas music. We had a lot of fun with last year’s post sharing favorites and some lesser known recordings. This year, my holiday Music Monday post is far more meaningful than the previous ones, and I’m thrilled to share it with all of you.

My 15 year old niece Olivia has been writing and recording her own music. That’s right. She’s a fledgling songwriter. To her family and friends it comes as no surprise, as Olivia has been a fine musician and marvelous singer ever since she was a little girl. Her innate talent was already on full display at her 5th grade talent show. But Olivia is a teenager now, and a budding young woman, which means she has things to say. And when women have things to say through music, the world, rightly, listens.

I could go on and on about my darling niece; her wicked sense of humor, her kindness and honesty, her intrinsic understanding of truth and authenticity. A born-and-bred city girl, she is worldly beyond her years, but valiantly resists the cynicism that afflicts much of her generation. With our family struggling through some very strained times, Olivia’s spirit and her music have kept alive that ‘fountain of joy’ that Bonhoeffer spoke of.

This is Olivia’s holiday single, Hold You Close, just released today! With her father producing this and all her tracks, Olivia’s musical future is full of wondrous possibilities. She is on Instagram at @oliviaparismusic and on Apple Music. I’m so proud of you sweetheart! 🙂 🙂

Ashes

Emotional pain is an insidious thing. Unlike a sprained ankle or a toothache, it burrows into nebulous recesses of the psyche and ‘hides’, until it finds ways to lash out from its dark chambers. Sudden, out-of-nowhere crying fits. Teeth grinding during sleep. Snapping at someone who didn’t deserve it. Still, you carry on, go to work, do grocery shopping, and try to maintain normalcy. What else can you do? Its not the flu which you know will pass eventually after days of bed rest. It’s the state of your life.

Six weeks ago when I sat down in a chair at the salon, my longtime colorist Gil ran his hands through my hair like he always does before he begins my treatment and said, “Do you know you have a bald spot here?”. Whaaattt?? With a large handheld mirror he showed it to me: a big round patch with nothing but the bare skin of my scalp where hair was supposed to be. Because of its location and my long hair, I hadn’t noticed it before. This was not common female-pattern hair loss. This was hair coming out in a concentrated clump. The hell!?? Jump ahead a few weeks and I’ve seen two doctors, a dermatologist, and had two blood tests, fully expecting to discover that I have a thyroid condition or an autoimmune disease or a vitamin deficiency or something – anything – that would explain this. The results? Nothing. There’s nothing physically or medically wrong with me. At one point I sat down a park bench, cell phone to my ear and sobbing a little, and asked the dermatologist what then she thought is causing my hair to fall out. She said, “It has to be stress”. Called the other doctor and asked him the same question. Answer? “It’s stress”.
“Will it grow back?”.
“Maybe. Maybe not.”
“What can I do to stop it?”
“Nothing.”

As if to purposely fuck with me for having seen doctors and had blood tests, my hair loss has accelerated over the past couple of weeks. Huge clumps coming out in the shower. In my hand. On my pillow in the morning. It’s only getting worse.

Two torturous years of family strife will not stop taking their toll on me apparently. The destructive, selfish actions of Chris Hajian, my vain, manipulative brother, have created this hellscape. He has stolen my mother from me with his bullying and brainwashing, made everyone suffer because of his stupid “mid-life crisis”, and walked out on his wife and child. Ever since my father died, my brother (the remaining MAN, of course) has held all the power in the family and he wields it like a weapon. Because that’s what angry, failed men do. Sure Chris Hajian used to be nice guy, way back when. But now he’s just an arrogant, preening douchebag.

After a pivotal, traumatizing event, I decided to stand up for myself once and for all. My mother and my brother were treating me in a way that could only be described as abusive, and I refused to put up with it any longer. I couldn’t for my own sanity and well-being. I expressed my feelings to them, repeatedly. But I was nothing more than voice in the wilderness. Rather than make adjustments in their behavior, and resolve to treat me with love and respect, my mother and brother have done nothing about it. That’s how little I’m valued in my family. It’s a profoundly painful, hurtful realization. I have no family anymore, and I’ve already been replaced. This is the thanks I get for being a devoted, supportive daughter; Mom chooses her self-centered, spoiled son in the end. A son who sees her only as his stooge. So yeah, this is seriously painful. Lost the mother I loved so much .. and now losing my hair 😥

It’s Music Monday, and Tom Petty passed away last week. His distinctly American brand of rock and roll gave us so many great songs. Here’s one of my favorites. Thanks for reading, friends …

Bow Brush Body

I have known Fred Hatt for almost 12 years. Over the course of our friendship, his inexhaustible well of artistic expression and experimentation has never ceased to amaze me. I’d like to share this mesmerizing Fred Hatt project with Museworthy readers. From Vimeo:

Strokes of a violin bow, traces of a paintbrush, and the gestures of the body: dancer Kuan-Ling Tsai, artist Fred Hatt, and musician Andrei Matorin bring three art forms together in a collaborative shadow-screen performance.