Sanctuaries

A few days ago, I was planning – or rather expecting – to prepare my annual Easter blog post as a eulogy for Notre Dame Cathedral. Like the rest of the world, I was horrified watching news videos of the blazing orange inferno licking ferociously at the roof of the 800 year old house of worship and bringing down its famous spire like it was just a flimsy stack of toothpicks. But miraculously, the damage turned out to be nowhere near as devastating as predicted, and the image of a burned-to-a-crisp building skeleton never emerged. Most of the artwork and holy relics survived, as did the pipe organ and the exquisite stained glass Rose windows. I thought for sure those windows would be goners; blown out and shattered by the intense heat. But incredibly they remain intact. Even the resident bees survived unscathed. Yes, the bees! And they did so without even having to fly away. Apparently the CO2 from the smoke makes bees so drowsy that they simply hunker down in a stupor. Nicholas Geant, Notre Dame’s beekeeper, posted a photo to his Instagram of the Cathedral bees safely huddled in a crevice of a gargoyle. Glory to god, and glory to the bees who are so critically important to the world’s ecosystem. I love this photo. The bees are like, “Fire? What fire?” 🙂

I spent time last week in a house of worship significantly ‘younger’ than the medieval-era Notre Dame. My priest Father Byrne asked me to help him chaperone our church’s youth group to an event called “Nightwatch”, organized by the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island. Our cathedral (which has no bees!) is the Cathedral of the Incarnation. It was established in 1885 – quite the contrast to the 1200s of Notre Dame. Other than both being designed in Gothic style architecture, the two structures don’t have many parallels. Significantly, Notre Dame is a Catholic cathedral, while the Incarnation is Episcopalian. We can get into the Catholic/Protestant divide another time. For now let’s just establish that all such Christian structures serve the purpose of the glorification of God and the veneration of Christ. There are, throughout the world, cultural buildings such as theaters and opera houses, and historic mansions and museums, that are all amazing places to visit. But a worship space of any faith has a distinct and unique aura within, whether a Hindu temple, Islamic mosque, Jewish synagogue, or Christian church. The prevailing sense of devotion is palpable in every inch of the place. It is the structure’s entire reason for being. Here in New York City, a stroll through St John the Divine is a completely different experience than a visit to The Frick Collection, the former private residence of an obscenely rich man. We can enjoy and appreciate both, of course.

Cathedral of the Incarnation, Garden City, Long Island:

One need not be religious to appreciate the aesthetic beauty, rich history, and architectural splendor of houses of worship. The great cathedrals of the world are ornate and richly detailed. Small town or country churches, which are not seats of Bishops or home to large congregations or Tiffany stained glass windows, are equally sacred in their modesty and simplicity. The historic 300 year old Quaker Meeting House in Flushing, Queens, just a few miles from my house, is the most unassuming place you’ll ever see. But the plain rectangular-shaped building with its dark floorboards and unadorned interior is thoroughly imbued with deep spirituality and intense devotion. In a way, it’s deceptive, because the Quaker Meeting House has been a gathering place for some of the most committed ‘agitators’ in America’s history, most notably the early abolitionist movement. Check out their website and you’ll see that three centuries has not slowed them down in the slightest.

Back to “Nightwatch” and the purpose of the youth event. Young people from different parishes around the Diocese (which encompasses Brooklyn, Queens, and Nassau and Suffolk counties) spent the night in the Cathedral and participated in games and activities led by youth group leaders, myself included. And by ‘spend the night’ I mean sleeping bags, pajamas, pillows, toothbrushes, the whole works, with every inch of the church space available to us. Children slept on the pews if they wished, on the floor, up at the altar, next to the organ, at the base of the lectern – literally wherever they wanted. They climbed up the bell tower, sang songs, did crafts. Activities were organized according to the Episcopal Church’s Lent Reflections, which consist of “Learn”, “Go”, “Turn”, “Rest”, “Bless”, among other meditations. I was very interested in “Turn” because there is a lot you could with that one. I’m still exploring it in my mind, days later; turn ‘away’, turn ‘toward’? Many interpretations. But I was assigned “Rest”, which I enjoyed a great deal because I got to connect with the young people through our shared leisure time. “Rest” did not involve sleeping or napping, mind you. It involved no-pressure togetherness of coloring, art, and labyrinths.

Here is my “Rest” station, replete with blankets, pillows, coloring, pencils, and markers:

Returning to my previous point about the unique ambiance of religious spaces; as adults and children slumbered in the Cathedral that night, sprawled in sleeping bags on marble floors while rain poured down outside, I awoke abruptly around 5 AM. My mind has been so troubled and distressed these days with my ongoing family strife and health issues I’m lucky if I even get five hours of sleep a night. So when my eyes fluttered open I was captivated by what was in my field of vision. It was beautiful, comforting, calming. I reached over for my iPhone and took a picture:

That light streaming through the bays represents, for me, the ray of light that I try to see – at times squinting (metaphorically) because the darkness can easily dominate – to get me through these difficult days. During this Easter time, I wish for all of you to bask in your light, be nourished by it, and follow it wherever it takes you.

A blessed Easter, blessed Passover, and blessed spring season to each of you. We can all be reborn ….

Love, Claudia

Remains

Happy New Year Museworthy friends! I’m awfully late in offering that salutation, but at least it’s still January. “Happy New Years” in February are just going too far 😆

So I finally got to see the Armenia exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum. The show closed on the 13th. It consisted of many beautifully illuminated manuscripts, gospel books, bas relief sculptures, architectural fragments, liturgical objects and vestments, and, my favorites, reliquaries. In medieval Christianity, reliquaries were containers that held holy relics of some sort, such as physical remains of the saints or objects associated with them. Adorned with precious stones and other decorative embellishments, reliquaries are unique works of art in and of themselves.

This reliquary cross with relics of St John the Baptist is from the Cilicia region of Armenia, 14th century. Gilded silver, filigree, precious and semi-precious stones, pearl and coral:

And this is a hand reliquary of Saint Abulmuse, from the Kharpert region. Some of my ancestors were from Kharpert. This gilded silver piece was luminous in person. Abulmuse was martyred and is recognized with a feast day in Armenian Orthodox tradition. This reliquary was on loan from the Alex and Marie Manoogian Museum in Michigan. The Manoogians are cousins to my family through my grandfather’s side.

I hope that 2019 has started out better for all of you than it has for me. These past few weeks since my last blog post have been personally very trying. I won’t bore you with a laundry list of reasons, except that severe emotional pain from my family’s behavior, plus financial strains, plus dealing with a medical condition, have all piled on at the same time and I’ve felt like I’m drowning. I have an appointment tomorrow for a heart test to assess my aortic valve issue; my third one since the summer. It would have made an enormous difference during this tough time if only I had some relief from family aggravations. But no such luck. There’s never any ‘relief’ in this family. My mother used to be the greatest single support system one could ask for; a woman of bottomless compassion and understanding. Those were the good old days. But she has been hijacked by my brother and has chosen to aggressively prioritize his life, his concerns, his narratives and his needs over everyone else’s. It has cast a dark cloud over everything, and my recent anxiety hit levels I haven’t experienced in some time. However, I am immensely grateful for my dear friends, my sister-in-law Gayle, my niece Olivia, and my church family. Accept love and kindness from wherever it comes.

I’ll see you all soon …

Children of the Arts

When my father died in December 2004, my mother, my brother, and I managed to organize the funeral arrangements as we not only processed our heartbreak, but also while in a collective state of shell-shock. Numbing, bewildering shock. Dad died suddenly, you see. He collapsed onto his bedroom floor, brought down by a catastrophic stroke. He was dead in an instant. As the three of us spent the next couple of days making phone calls, sorting through old photos and mementos, writing our eulogies, and comforting each other in our grief, we agreed to let family and friends know that in lieu of flowers they should make a donation to the Save the Music Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to preserving music education in public schools. For those of you who may not know, my father was a musician – a trumpet player who once contemplated a career trading stocks on Wall Street but opted for one in music instead. He supported his family, paid the bills, and put food on the table for over forty years by playing his trumpet.

Arts education in schools in an issue near and dear to my heart, and to my family’s heart. I was reminded of this subject with the recent passing of Roy Hargrove, jazz trumpet player and Grammy award winner, who burst onto the scene during the 1980s. I distinctly remember overhearing my Dad ask a fellow musician, “Have you heard this kid Hargrove?”. To say there was a ‘buzz’ surrounding him in jazz circles would be an understatement.

Born in Waco, Texas, Roy Hargrove attended the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas. It was there that the 16 year old Hargrove was discovered by Wynton Marsalis who was blown away by the young trumpeter’s skills and took him under his wing. The Booker T Washington School was originally founded in 1892 as a school for African-American students. During the 1970s it was transformed into an “arts magnet”; a public school with specialized curricula devoted to arts study.

Here in New York City, magnet schools of all kinds, both arts and academic, have been an integral part of our public school system for decades. (When I was growing up we didn’t call them magnets, we called them “specialized schools”). From the Bronx High School of Science, to Art and Design in midtown, to the old High School of Music and Art which resided adjacent to the City College campus in Harlem, to the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Queens, magnets have provided the young people of NYC with priceless opportunities for enrichment, to grow, thrive, and explore their innate talents. I know many, many people – native New Yorkers all – who are alumni of our city’s arts magnet schools, and every one of them will attest to the significance of their high school experience and speak with tremendous fondness for that period in their life. It far surpasses their feelings about college.

Innate talent was something Roy Hargrove had in spades. Would he have found success had he not attended an arts magnet? It’s impossible to know. But we do know that his future mentor, Wynton Marsalis, found him there. Marsalis wrote a magnificent, deeply touching tribute to his protégé on his Facebook page. The news of Hargrove’s death was quite shocking, as he was only 49 years old. The NPR obituary for him is worth reading. This descriptive passage stands out:

“A briskly assertive soloist with a tone that could evoke either burnished steel or a soft, golden glow, Hargrove was a galvanizing presence in jazz over the last 30 years. Dapper and slight of build, he exuded a sly, sparkling charisma onstage, whether he was holding court at a late-night jam session or performing in the grandest concert hall. His capacity for combustion and bravura was equaled by his commitment to lyricism, especially when finessing a ballad on flugelhorn.”

For our Music Monday, we pay tribute to both Roy Hargrove and all the young creatives encouraged and celebrated at arts magnets throughout the country. While we all go about our days living our busy lives, remember that in a school somewhere in America, a teenager is sitting in a music room practicing on her violin, or gathering with classmates after lunch to jam some jazz riffs, or choreographing an original dance number. Those young people need us. More importantly, we need them. And props to Booker T Washington School for the Arts in Dallas. Keep up the great work! Here’s Roy and his band killing it at the Newport Jazz Festival in 2001. RIP.

Happy 11th Birthday Museworthy!!

Here we are again, friends. Observing another “blogaversary” for this little modeling/drawing/painting/sculpture/music/animals/museums/NYC online journal called Museworthy. We reached the ten year mark last year, and that was extra special of course. But it’s all special to me. Meaningful in a way that is both a comfort and an enrichment. It’s an opportunity for me to connect with you, my wonderful readers, and share various incarnations of art, life, and beauty, both visual and verbal. I’ll repeat what I always write on this annual post, and that is a heartfelt thank you for your visits here, whether they be regular or sporadic, and for your emails, comments, contributions, and friendships. It all means a great deal to me. And to you ‘quiet’ visitors who subscribe and read, I know you’re out there. I see you and I thank you. Blessings to all …

So Fred Hatt and I did it again with our yearly photoshoot, this time at my house instead of Fred’s studio. He loved the natural north light of the bay window and felt strongly that we should take some shots there. We agreed on using this one for the blog. I like it because it’s a little strange, with the eye, the hair and the hands on the wall.

Perhaps because I turned 50 years old this year I’ve been plunging heavily into nostalgia these past few months, recalling the music, the trends, and the cultural and historical watersheds that I and my fellow Gen Xers lived through as children of the 80s. We had no Internet, no smart phones, no Netflix, no 24 hour cable news, no social media, and definitely no blogs! But as the ‘bridge’ between the postwar era and the digital age, my generation learned how to adapt and fend for ourselves; the latchkey kids weaned on MTV and afterschool specials, having the shit scared out of us by the AIDS crisis and Three Mile Island and the ‘War on Drugs’. We managed to come out on the other side as free thinkers, improvisors, and entrepreneurs, with a dose of slackerdom mixed in. Winging it into adulthood. Cynical but not nihilistic. Finding our way to rewarding, productive lives if we could. Art modeling came to my rescue after years of Gen X-style wandering. Better late than never! Where we go – where we ALL go – from here is anybody’s guess.

Which brings me to our music selection for today. In addition to the blogaversary, today is also a Music Monday, and the song I chose very much reflects both my personal mindset these days and the indelible song memories of my youth. In my junior year of high school one of the coolest bands ever, Talking Heads, released their album Little Creatures. I bought it and played it as soon as I could and had a blast. This is the video for the song “And She Was” and I hope you listen and enjoy its catchy, cheerful, imaginative vibe. The video is great fun, kind of like a surrealism mixed media artwork. Many days lately I feel like the girl in the song, ‘floating above it’. Other days I pray for the strength to float above it. Here’s David Byrne and Talking Heads.

With love and gratitude, Claudia 🙂

Golden Jubilee

I present this blog post feeling equal parts of dread and gratitude. And since I can’t ignore it even if I tried I’ll just mention that this Sunday, July 22, is a significant day for me. It will mark my 50th orbit around the sun .. and boy am I exhausted! 😆 Yeah it’s my birthday and it’s the big 5-0. Half a century folks. Yay!! I made it!! Of course, even us super cool Gen Xers had to get old eventually. Remember us? The forgotten ‘middle child’ wedged between the Baby Boomers and the Millenials, both of whom outnumber us by huge margins. I’ve been obsessively listening to 80s music lately and it’s no mystery why. So many memories.

In lieu of tedious profound thoughts and deep life reflections inspired by my ‘milestone’ birthday, I’m just going to wish you all a wonderful weekend and continued summer fun of vacations, travels, recreation, explorations, and whatever else you’re all enjoying. Meet me right back here in a few days. Grace and peace, dear friends. I’ll see you on the other side of fifty …

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, On the Road to the Temple of Ceres:

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. 🙂