Monday, March 31, 2008

A Day of Contrasts

Today was my first venture back from the High Desert to the more commercial plane below. On my way out, I took a picture of the flowers blooming now in the higher elevations of Joshua Tree.

I had to run an errand in Palm Springs and was amazed how fast and easy the journey was. Along the way, there is an amazing crossing through a post apocalyptic field of wind turbines set in the desert sand.Greenery, air conditioning and chain restaurants of every description soon surrounded me. There is a certain beauty in the contrast between the architecture and development in the town and the dramatic setting up against the San Jacinto mountains.

On the way back, I had more errands to run in Yucca Valley. By the time I got back to the cabin, I was in need of a good grounding. I ventured straight out my front door and climbed the hills ahead. After scrambling on the rocks and negotiating a fairly steep climb for 15 minutes, I was soon hidden away from all development and surrounded by boulders, scrub, flowering aloe and the cool sense of sunset.

I thought about the wonderful way in which the eye adjusts with time in the desert. My very first time here, I saw only a sea of bleached out sand, stones and dry vegetation. With time, the wonderful details of the surrounding environment have begun to pop and my eye is constantly caught by some new focus in the landscape. The mis en scene changes dramatically with the light; grass seeming flat in the day, suddenly grows in stark contrast to the ground in the early evenings rays. The layering of mountain ranges unfolds as the early morning light increases. And all around, something alive makes itself known in the stillness and I look forward to seeing even further into its workings.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Neti Pot - No Relation to Pohl Pot

In my last post, I described the lovely scent of the desert in bloom and shared pictures of the splendor. Well, where there's smoke there's fire. Or more directly, where there are flowers, there's pollen. Lots of it. For three solid days following my jaunt into the Valley to bring you those snaps, I was a runny, red-eyed mess. It was an effort to convince Megan Evans, with whom I was skype-ing to Melbourne, that all was well as tears were streaming down my face.

Determined not to take Claritin and turn into a speed freak again, I consulted with the local health food store. My first homeopathic remedy was useless. Following some web research, I returned for various items when I ran into my touchstone out here, Gretchen. Gretchen promptly took me by the hand an introduced me to the neti pot, grapefruit extract and aloe vera extract.

The neti pot is a technique for nasal irrigation used in India and integrated into yogic practice. While I was a little daunted by Gretchen's description of the process, I decided to try it as part of my learning experience out here. Warm water, sea salt, grapefruit seed extract and a tilted head. And voila, two days later nary a drip or drop other than that induced when using the pot. Add to that a daily dose of aloe vera and vitamin C with quercetin. Yup folks, I'm going native! Here's a youtube demo for those who care to learn more: NetiDemo

Just in time too as the flowers are racing up the hill toward my cabin. Literally overnight, Joshua Tree is in bloom!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Joshua Tree House

So for those of you who haven't heard it a thousand times, I've become fascinated with the High Desert area around Joshua Tree, Twentynine Palms and Wonder Valley. There is a sense of connection, freedom and openness that I find here. It's the warmth of the locals and other visitors who are less guarded here than elsewhere. It's the warmth of the weather that is dry and surprisingly cool at night. It's the creative energy that is expressed here and becomes infectious to those attuned to it. I also realized last year, it reminds me of my roots and connections in South Africa (see Nieu Bethesda and Prince Albert posts below).

Well, I've finally arrived for a period to explore my ideas, tap into the creative energies and produce some of my own work. I'm staying in a great cabin up on the mountain near the entrance to the Joshua Tree National Monument. The cabin has other studios attached (note to visitors) and a main house below, and is set in a lovely "garden" consisting of pines, cactus and bric a brac in the Desert style. It is also set against a dramatic backdrop of rocky mountain ridges that draws climbers and tourists the world over.

It's a wonderful time to be here - still a bit cool - when the Desert is blooming. I took a drive down to Iron Age Road deep in Wonder Valley and saw fields of flowers that scented the air in an unexpected way. The flowers will gradually reach the higher altitudes and I look forward to seeing them from the patio. I also saw some strange "installations" consisting of military-style artifacts and the remnants of some structure now used for target practice (pics below).

One of the great contrasts of the area is the fact that Twentynine Palms is home to the world's largest Marine Corp's base. This brings a certain military edge to the area although the base glints off in the distance and is almost entirely self-contained. Some local JT residents are singers who voice protest songs on the weekend and earn some bucks acting as Iraqi civilians in mock exercises during the week.

I have been quite busy settling in and kicking into gear on the upcoming HIV Law Project Spring Benefit Exhibition which takes place on June 2 at the Moti Hasson Gallery in Chelsea, NYC. Consider yourselves invited! I'm psyched to get going on my collages again and have touched base with Gretchen Grunt at the 29 Palms Creative Center to set up some time for exploring how they might translate to print. Gretchen is the first person I met out here and a font of warmth, creativity and fun! Social life has already kicked into gear too, I'm meeting some new folks and reconnecting with others. Gallery openings over the next few weeks, regular movies down at the Beatnik Cafe, yoga the gym and various other distractions are all available.

Stay tuned (subscribe through the Atom link at the very bottom of the page) and,as my friend Shari Elf always says: " something good is gonna happen to you today, why not right now"?!

Monday, March 24, 2008


Bloemfontein, city of roses, is the judicial capital of South Africa. It is generally not on the tourist track and the thought a visit can bring scorn to most South Africans faces. Nevertheless, this city has two major assets:

1. Edwin Cameron. Judge, AIDS activist, author, humorist and athlete. Edwin spends time here when the Court is in session.

2. The Oliewenhuis Museum. Oliewenhuis, completed in 1941,
served as the residence for the Governor General of the Union of South Africa from 1942 until South Africa's independence from Britain in 1961. From '61 to 1985, this beautiful building served as the official residence of the State Presidents of South Africa. In 1985, following campaigning by local citizens, the building was released to the National Museum for the purpose of displaying art. The Museum opened in 1989.

Led by curator Sharon Crampton, the Museum has collected important contemporary artists and has undertaken various programs to make itself relevant to the general public. The garden, besides housing a wonderful restaurant, is filled with engaging sculpture as well as the African Carousel.

The Carousel was commissioned to engage a variety of artists working in materials not normally used for outdoor public commissions. The focus of the Carousel Project is to introduce children to the concept of art in a non-intimidating and fun way in order to build the audience of the future. The signage regarding rules for the Carousel (see below) strikes me as interesting guidance for the local political scene and perhaps a wider context too.

The standout work inside the Museum is Willem Boshoff's Blind Alphabet. In the artists own words:

"The Blind Alphabet ABC ... is a three-dimensional dictionary, of 338 finished sculptural units, with more work in progress. In an inversion of power relations, the work creates a dependency on the touching and reading skills of blind guides. Without blind people in attendance, the Blind Alphabet remains lost, - an exercise in aesthetic futility. To the sighted, the 338 sculptures look like a cemetry, repeated in endless rows. It is intended to disorientate us. The blind, of course, do not know that the work makes us feel lost because they only have to view one object at a time."

Don't overlook Bloemfontein!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Prince Albert (tsk, tsk)

Another town in the Karoo ("one third of the whole of South Africa is composed of the Karoo - the Bushman's dry and dusty plain") well worth visiting, is the beautiful enclave of Prince Albert. "Prince Albert is known for its sun-ripened fresh and dried fruit, especially figs and apricots. In the Prince Albert Valley, to the south of the village, farmers have restored vineyards last farmed in the 19th century. Karoo lamb, olives, olive oil and cheese are local delicacies. "

The drive into Prince Albert can be done from a couple of directions, each with it's unique charm. One way involves a drive along a most beautiful stretch of road from a town called De Rust. This road, besides being carved out of the mountainside and featuring fancy rest stops, features a wonderful waterfall in which to take a dip.

The other way in is over the Swartberg Pass - a challenging and worthwhile drive which switches back and forth between arid Karoo landscape and fertile valleys. Don't try this at night!

There are many places to stay in Prince Albert. De Bergkant is a wonderful b&b featuring elegant architecture, an interesting art collection and warm hospitality.

"The perfect end to a day on the trail is a gourmet meal at the renowned Olive Branch Restaurant, a short stroll from the cottage." The restaurant is the creation of Bokkie Botha, a former labour advisor and member of the ILO, who is chef, maitre d and much, much more. Bokkie serves dinner twice a week according to his will so calling ahead is essential.

The town is a picture perfect collection of cottages and interesting shops and galleries. There is a low koppie just behind the last street which makes for a great vantage point for looking out into the Karoo and surveying the extent of the town.

A fantastic spot to get away to!