Recent Travels: Kyoto and Southern Japan

I just returned from a trip to Japan, traveling with textile artist and educator, Mihoko Wakabayashi of the SAORI Worcester weaving studio, and several other fiber artists. I had a wonderful experience and my mind is still floating in memories of tea ceremonies, kimonos, and noodle shops! A big goal of the trip was to connect with Japanese weavers (see more here for the story behind this inventive, Zen-based type of weaving), and also to learn how SAORI is being utilized by studios for art therapy and economic empowerment for those with various disabilities in Japan. We made some amazing new friends and returned with many ideas for similar weaving applications here in the greater Boston communities.

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In between the various workshops and meetings (and Japanese hot baths!), I had some time to draw and take in the culture, energy, and daily life of this beautiful country. Here are drawings from the first half of our trip (part 2 to follow soon)…

We started out in Osaka, visiting the SAORInomori studio in Izumi - a friendly, relaxed part of the city - and then took an easy train ride to Kyoto.

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It’s easy to get lost in the romanticism of Kyoto, with block after block of ancient temples and traditional geishas walking strolling along. We stumbled upon the impressive Shinto Heian-jingu Shrine just as the sun was beginning to set. It was built in 1895 to commemorate the 1100th anniversary of Kyoto as capital of the country.

We also stopped by the serene Shosei garden where a group of ladies dressed in kimonos were having their picture taken on an iconic Japanese bridge. They were probably tourists, but it still made the quintessential picture of classic Japan!

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I love seamlessly traditional and modern is blended in Kyoto. One minute it’s gritty, chaotic, modern,

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the next, it’s a traditional open-air market like the Nikishi shopping district,

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and then around the corner, it’s neon and trendy. All so fun to draw!

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Since the train system is so convenient and manageable, I also took a few side trips outside the city. First I went to sacred Mount Kurama, just 40 minutes from Kyoto. People come here to hike a steep spiritual pilgrimage to the top, where Mikao Usui once meditated for 21 days and received the Reiki energy. There is still an active Buddhist temple at the top and the 6 pointed star in the center of the courtyard is a source of energy: stand here and receive the power of the universe (the 6 points of the star represent the ways we sense the world according to the Lotus Sutra: eyes, ears, nose, mouth, body, and heart).

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Next I went to the IM Pei designed Miho Museum in the mountains of Shigaraki. Built to house Mihoko Koyama’s giant art collection, Pei wanted to evoke the ancient Chinese narrative, The Peach Blossom Spring, by Tao Yuanming, wherein a lost fisherman stumbles upon a self-sustaining utopia.

His design blends man-made materials with the natural landscape, leading you through a tunnel in the mountains, across a bridge, emerging into the “paradise” of the glass-roof museum.

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As Pei sees it, art is the paradise between heaven and earth, a utopia of human creativity.

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It was hard to leave Kyoto - it felt like we had only scratched the surface of all there is to see - but soon we were on a train heading south to Kyushu Island. We arrived in the small town of Yufuin, which has become more recently known to tourists for its hot springs, but still has a significant local population of farmers. It’s located within densely forested mountains and I felt like I had stepped right into an impressionist painting!

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Farmers work tirelessly on their crops, and we arrived just as many were starting to plant miles of rice paddies. Many used modern farm machinery, but I saw a few working the mud with hand tools.

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I hiked one day to the Ogosha Shrine where a giant 1000 year old Sugi tree is said to be inhabited by the Kami spirits. Cutting down trees can bring misfortune since they’re believed to often be the home of friendly spirits that watch over you. This tree was surrounded by a protective forest of bamboo that seemed to be dancing with the light and wind.

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Back in the town center, streets hum on with tourists shopping, rick-shaw drivers jogging, people watching and walking, the Oita river chugging along.

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Part 2 to be posted next week: our travels continued on to Hiroshima, Himeji, Okayama, and the “art island” of Naoshima!





Resistance in Our DNA: 2018 Women's March in Cambridge, MA

Because the Boston 2018 Women's March was not so much a march, but a gathering to galvanize, it was fitting that it took place at the Cambridge Common. Under the branches of trees that watched George Washington rally farmers to join the first American Revolution, Bostonians joined together to fight for continued equal rights. 

Our much admired state senator, Elizabeth Warren, was stuck in Washington with the recent government shut down, so Attorney General Maura Healey summed up the sentiment of ongoing outrage and stubborn perseverance: 

Now is the time to remember that resistance is in our DNA.. we are here today on Cambridge Common.. where George Washington gathered patriots to revolt, where Martin Luther King Jr. preached non-violent resistance, where John Kennedy and Barack Obama learned to be leaders... now is the time to embrace our history and to stand with the courage of our conviction.
A year has passed... and with unshakable faith in the ideals that sprang forth from this soil, with an unyielding commitment to act and to lead, we will take back the state legislatures across this country, the House, the Senate, and we WILL take back the White House. 
Women across this country in every city, in every industry, put the world on notice: we have power, we have a voice, and we're going to use it - and for those of you who can't get on board... your time is up. We are in this together and we are unstoppable.
 
Multi-generations of women unite around the Civil War statue of Abraham Lincoln to raise their voices.

Multi-generations of women unite around the Civil War statue of Abraham Lincoln to raise their voices.

2018 pussies gather to hear a gay veteran tell her story of ignored abuse during her service.

2018 pussies gather to hear a gay veteran tell her story of ignored abuse during her service.

A small group of counter protesters showed up to voice support for Trump and share pro-life opinions. They were quickly surrounded by the crowd and soon after escorted out by police. 

A small group of counter protesters showed up to voice support for Trump and share pro-life opinions. They were quickly surrounded by the crowd and soon after escorted out by police. 

Although it was a smaller group than last year's 150,000, there was absolutely no shortage of passion and the energy felt more focused, the messages more directed towards specific action as women continue to gather strength and resources.  As I later heard DC activist, Elise Bryan, say on CBC News,

 “Trump is only the symptom of the problem - you have to be engaged, you have to be awake.

We can’t afford the luxury of despair."

See more drawings by my fellow artists for democracy on Instagram @ArtistsForDemocracy!

Austria: Music and Mauthausen

Vienna eats, sleeps, and breathes the arts, so it was impossible to resist hopping a quick train from Budapest to Austria. A lifelong pianist and singer, I've studied classical music for as long as I can remember, and it was like visiting musical candyland.

Vienna's iconic cathedral,  Stephansdom , was like a 250-year-long gingerbread house project, with more walls and decoration added with each century's ruler. Musically speaking, Vivaldi had his funeral, and Haydn and Mozart were both married here. Beethoven lived right down the street and loved hearing the bells ... until he realized one day his growing deafness when he noticed birds flying out of the bell tower, startled from the sound, but he heard nothing.

Vienna's iconic cathedral, Stephansdom, was like a 250-year-long gingerbread house project, with more walls and decoration added with each century's ruler. Musically speaking, Vivaldi had his funeral, and Haydn and Mozart were both married here. Beethoven lived right down the street and loved hearing the bells ... until he realized one day his growing deafness when he noticed birds flying out of the bell tower, startled from the sound, but he heard nothing.

I focused my music history odyssey with Vienna's big three: Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. All three lived good portions of their lives here, as Vienna was the place to be for influences and sponsors if you were a talented composer/musician.

Tucked away in a maze of little Viennese alleyways, Mozart's apartment is mostly empty of furniture since he was a notorious gambler and died (in his 30's) with significant debt. HIs widow, Celeste, sold everything she could, but the top floor of the apartment comes alive with room after room of his music, exhibits describing his musical influences. Student of Haydn, musical savant, socially irresponsible, but with such a giant heart. In his music you can hear the funny mixture of all his contradictions, and I always have the impulse to both cry and laugh at the same time. He was a Freemason and not afraid of breaking convention; his Enlightenment ideals of equality were integrated into his music, especially in his opera the Magic Flute.

Haydn, inspirational teacher to both Mozart and Beethoven, was a quiet, polite, and generous person, and wrote for his entire life as the court composer for the royal Esterházy family. Although he lived much of the time surrounded by opulence and aristocratic court life, he was quiet, humble, with simple tastes and needs. He composed every day in his Viennese apartment, often taking breaks in the garden with his favorite pet parrot.

Beethoven, on the other hand, was anything but simple and quiet. He had a restless personality, just like some of his music, and this lovely apartment was only one of 40 he occupied. He must have found Vienna richly inspiring since he composed some of his most famous sonatas, symphonies, and chamber music here. The apartment was on the 4th floor of this skinny stone building and filled with windows; there were views of the sky from every room. As I was looking around, the skies started to darken, threatening rain, and then just as suddenly, cleared up again.

He was known for taking brisk, long walks every day and in the neighborhood near his apartment I found colorful patches of gardens and trees - as a nature lover, this must have made him so happy.

I was curious to see where Beethoven wrote his final 9th Symphony, so I took a side trip to Baden, 30 minutes outside of Vienna. Beethoven spent the summers of his later life here when his health began to fail and doctors advised country life away from the city. This building on the corner, today the Beethovenhaus museum, is the small apartment where he lived and worked, entertained friends at dinner parties, and generally did not follow doctor's orders to rest. He was completely deaf by this time, but he was tenacious and his music only got richer and more complexly inventive. In losing one of his senses, he was forced to look deeper for what he was trying to say.

 

Fortified by Beethoven and Baden, I felt ready for the part of my trip, and I took a train 50 years into a future hell: the former Nazi concentration camp, Mauthausen. 

Located at the top of a mile-long hill in the idyllic Austrian countryside, the death camp's location was part of its strategy of cruelty. To anyone looking in, it advertised the Nazi's formidable power. To anyone looking out, beauty was accessible only by glimpses through barbed wire. 

Mauthausen began as "only" a prisoners camp. Nazis forced inmates to work the quarry, using the stone to transform Berlin and other cities into symbols of Third Reich glory. On this particularly treacherous path to the quarry, nicknamed the Stairs of Death, prisoners were forced to carry boulders up a long, steep hill and were often pushed off the cliff at the top for sport or to discard the weaker laborers.

Deep underground, prisoners were taken to be tortured with medical experiments and interrogations, or for mass extermination.

With horrifying efficiency, the gas chamber and incinerator were located side by side in adjacent rooms. By the time of liberation by the US in 1945, over 11,000 people had been exterminated here. The small, green boarded up window would have been the last thing people saw before entering the gas chamber.

With horrifying efficiency, the gas chamber and incinerator were located side by side in adjacent rooms. By the time of liberation by the US in 1945, over 11,000 people had been exterminated here. The small, green boarded up window would have been the last thing people saw before entering the gas chamber.

Inside the prison walls, being alive did not mean living - it just meant you were not (yet) dead.

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Our tour guide showed us a picture of the Nazi guard who operated the gas chamber and crematorium, a man named Martin Roth. I kept staring at this picture, a link back to a person who had it in him somehow to personally exterminate thousands of people day after day. After the war, he went into hiding but after a former prisoner recognized him on the street 20 years later, he confessed.

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Just outside the camp walls, a sculpture park extended out over the hills with memorials from countries all over the world. I was taken with a tall bronze tree from Israel with branches like fingers reaching up, not a comforting memorial, more like a warning that this history will be remembered one way or another.

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It is very tempting after visiting a place like Mauthausen, returning to the US to witness Heather D. Heyer's death in Charlottesville this past weekend, to fall prey to dark thinking. How far from events like the Holocaust have we come when hate crimes persist in America Land of the Free? A Mauthausen exhibit described the town's German citizens as a mixture of sympathetic to the prisoners, and yet either fearful enough of the Nazis or complacent enough of the social order to not fully stand up against it. The threads of racism can run so insidiously deep.

Yesterday, a friend told me about her black cousin's experience of racist bullying at a Massachusetts college that was so severe that she dropped out of school; my neighbor recently told me how he doesn't understand why a parent at our town's school would choose to believe that her child was a girl born a boy, and make everyone at the school uncomfortable with this "bathroom situation."  And I was forced to face the fact that my liberal state, so seemingly and safely Blue, is maybe not so safe for everyone.

But then I switch the TV channel from CNN to ESPN, and American football players pour onto the field as "Ode to Joy" from Beethoven's 9th Symphony blare over over the loudspeaker, and the crowd fills the stadium with cheers. An atmosphere of unity, powered in large part by music from a 19th Century German classical composer, anchors my spirits in hope. Even if it is just momentarily at a football game, there are forces of coexistence at work. And maybe Beethoven would never have imagined this particular context, but he was certainly no stranger to politicians playing gods and social upheaval, having lived through Napoleon's occupation of Vienna. He saw it all and, having gone completely deaf, decided to declare a truth he saw anyway and hoped the world would listen. Hear this piece and it is impossible to despair, even - or maybe especially - if you are watching the Dallas Cowboys run victoriously across the field. At the very least, for a few minutes, harmony drowns out the voices trying to divide.

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"Joy, beautiful spark of the gods...Your magic binds again/What convention strictly divides; All people become brothers."  - from "Ode to Joy," 4th movement of Beethoven's 9th Symphony, based on Friedrich Schiller's poem.

Budapest!

I was so excited to visit Budapest, Hungary, a few weeks ago. I hadn't seen this part of Europe before and during the four days I was there, this city so impressed me with its unfussy beauty and seamless layering of so much history. Reaching back to the days of the Romans, Budapest absorbed culture after culture, one ambitious conqueror after another. It was like walking through a patchwork quilt narrating thousands of years of cultural absorption.

As I wandered the city, I noticed all the bridges crossing the Danube River ("Buda" and "Pest" were originally two places split by the river). They're all interesting as a kind of catalogue of various architectural styles, but I liked this simple modern one in contrast to the 19th Century buildings sprinkled around it. 

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There are also bits of Roman remains hanging around, like the remnants of this fortress wall:

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My first official stop was Matyas (or Matthias) Church in the Castle Hill neighborhood. In my travel guidebook, this place looked like a castle from a Disney movie... and it pretty much did really look that way.

The church today gives a mainly Gothic impression, having been reconstructed in the 19th Century after damage, but the Baroque style Madonna statue tells the story of the church's original style. The Madonna, according to legend, was tucked away during the Turkish occupation (about 1580 - 1690), a secret hiding in the wall for centuries while the church was used as a mosque.

Surrounding Matyas are the walls of Fisherman's Bastion, newer in construction but referencing the medieval square where fish was sold and defensive walls deterred invasion. The statue is Saint Istvan, the king who accepted Christianity to Hungary around 1000 AD, before the Turkish invasion, and the turrets refer to the tribal tents of the original Magyar Hungarians.

A visiting American choir, the Young Women's Chorus of San Francisco, was rehearsing and I followed the melodies through the heavy wooden doors inside.

The space seemed to glow from the sound.

It was so moving that I went back that evening for their concert. They sang Bach, Hungarian folk songs, and American hymns - the international language of music!- and the audience of locals and tourists gave a standing ovation for these inspiring American voices.

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No matter how many times I hear a choir I am always struck by how so many disparate voices can fit together so harmoniously. The sound was so vulnerably human, especially circling the walls of this ancient church, and maybe that was why it felt like an unearthly respite in my modern, digitally calculated day...

The next day was similarly humbling when I visited the Dohany Street Jewish synagogue.

Jews first came to the Buda side of the city in the 13th Century, and around 1800 were welcomed to the Pest side by the Habsburg (Enlightenment equality ideals-aware) ruler, Francis I.

Dohany Synagogue was built by a Christian architect in an effort to respectfully integrate with the dominantly Christian Hungarian society. The building still has an overall abstract design positioned to face Jerusalem.

Any gains in tolerant social coexistence were stamped out with the Nazis. The neighborhood surrounding Dohany was converted into a Jewish ghetto without food or heat; over 400,000 Hungarian Jews were deported to concentration camps. 

This Tree of Life sculpture by Imre Varga, is made up of 6,000 steel weeping willow leaves, memorializing the 600,000 Hungarian Jews lost to the Holocaust. Behind it is a black granite tablet, echoing the 10 Commandments, but it stands blank since these sacred ethics were seemingly erased during this period in history.

When Soviets liberated the Jewish Ghetto in 1945, they found so many unidentifiable dead, a graveyard and memorial park was set up at Dohany so family and community members could have a place to commemorate. 

 

For Hungary, Communism under Soviet rule followed WWII, which took me to my next stop in Budapest: Momento Park.

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It was a kind of open air museum of Communist art and paraphernalia, recreating a sense of the years under Stalin and the Soviet regime. For decades following 1945, "Stalinism" took over Hungary - paranoia and the erasure of individual personality for the sake of the State. Bronze and stone statues depicting revolutionaries (Lenin), Soviet soldiers, and the diligent, obedient Hungarian worker perfectly illustrated the immobility of the time. 

This modest little car was the only one available for a Hungarian to purchase. You had to pre-pay before it arrived 6-8 years later.

Attempts at resistance and change were suppressed, including a particularly brutal clash on October 25,1956, outside the present day Parliament building in Kossuth Square. A massive crowd had gathered outside to protest and Soviet tanks were present nearby. There are conflicting account about who first fired shots, but Soviet tanks began shooting into the unarmed crowd. Trapped by locked gates, there was no escape and the few survivors remembered "sidewalks painted red with blood."

Today there are two columns on the Department of Agriculture building sprayed with bullet holes, a record of the sacrifice.

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It wasn't until 1989 that Hungary ousted the oppressive Communists and moved towards a free democratic state.

I needed a spirit lift by the time I left Momento park, and luckily there was a performance of local Hungarian folk dancing to bring me back to the colorful present. The performers were extraordinarily talented with no shortage of energy. Hungarian folk music is the epitome of resilience in rhythm (with very little use of slowing rubato and a unique habit of jumping up intervals of 4ths) and technical facility. The violinist was particularly energizing and seemed to have far more than 10 fingers!

The last day I went back over to the Parliament building, a symbol of Hungary's present Democracy. I kept thinking about the solidity of this building and all the clues of resilience it represented for Hungarians: architecture pointing to its ancient roots, a Soviet Star on the dome, a memorial for the 1956 uprising, the first permanent bridge linking Buda and Pest. Like the Danube River connecting these two pieces of land, Hungarians seem to take everything in stride, a continuous experiment in finding a balance between their traditions and a new way, the presence of Authority and the irrepressible individual spirit. Two sides stitched together, a try for fluid compromise, which any American will take comfort in seeing.

#RESIST: On the Anniversary of Japanese American Internment

Today is the anniversary of Executive Order 9066, signed by President Roosevelt, requiring the internment of all Japanese American citizens after Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japan in 1942.

My grandmother a few years before internment: born in the U.S. and labeled a threat for having distant relatives of the enemy.

My grandmother a few years before internment: born in the U.S. and labeled a threat for having distant relatives of the enemy.

One night, policemen knocked on my family's door in San Francisco and took my great-grandfather without any explanation. For weeks, there was no word of where he was or how he was doing. In the meantime, the rest of the family was notified by flyers tacked to street signs and store windows that they would be relocated to various fenced compounds. They had been deemed a threat, despite their citizen status, to America. Along with 110,000 others, my family spent over three years behind barbed wire fences until the end of World War II.

My family was first taken to a former racetrack, where they slept in old horse stables, and then to a larger fenced "relocation center" in the California desert.

My family was first taken to a former racetrack, where they slept in old horse stables, and then to a larger fenced "relocation center" in the California desert.

A few days ago, the NPR program Storycorps interviewed a Japanese American couple, Roy and Aiko Ebihara ,who were held in another camp in Utah. After decades of keeping the story of their experience quiet, they decided that in light of the President's recent movement towards racist policies, to tell their story. "We maintained that silence of our parents... And we regret it very much. Now I just want to accept that pride of who we are." 

Japanese Americans of that generation are culturally very reticent; my grandmother was always very quiet about her experience and would answer questions when I asked, but wasn't comfortable with sharing many details publically. History books mention this episode of blatant American racism, but I've never felt it was given the focus it deserves.

As I've been watching, marching in, and drawing the various protests of the past month, I think about how my grandmother would have felt about this point in our country's history. She passed away a few years ago, but I believe she would have seen what I do: America is once again faced with the opportunity to give in to fear and step backwards, or bravely continue to sort out the newest complications of what American democracy means.

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The world is such a different place now than in the 40s, and there are so many ways to share stories now. The information sharing and global awareness made possible through technology wasn't possible in my grandmother's time; it was easier for voices to be quieted.  When Trump took office, discontent quickly rose to a boiling point around the world. "Resist" has become the unifying battle cry for the surge of activism since Inauguration Day, a short hand for all things deemed racist/unequal/environmentally irresponsible. With the ability to connect causes, to recognize the similarities in our struggles,  the collective resistance to injustice can be stronger. The recent Immigration ban and other efforts to legalize racism are meeting opposition on the streets and in government, and the movement is only growing. As I look at drawings from various protests over the past month, I see a resistance that is fierce, powerful, and listening very closely to the messages -- like my family's illegal detainment -- of the past.

To see more artists' drawings protests around the country, please visit: @artistsfordemocracy .

Wall of Compassion & Solidarity event at the Boston Islamic Cultural Center. Hundreds of Bostonians stood guard outside so Muslims could pray in peace.

Wall of Compassion & Solidarity event at the Boston Islamic Cultural Center. Hundreds of Bostonians stood guard outside so Muslims could pray in peace.

Afterwards, protesters were invited inside the cultural center for hot chocolate and conversation.

Afterwards, protesters were invited inside the cultural center for hot chocolate and conversation.

The Boston LGBTQ-Muslim Solidarity March was held across the street from Faneuil Hall, site of Revolutionary War 'Sons of Liberty' rallies.

The Boston LGBTQ-Muslim Solidarity March was held across the street from Faneuil Hall, site of Revolutionary War 'Sons of Liberty' rallies.

At the LGBTQ-Muslim Solidarity March.

At the LGBTQ-Muslim Solidarity March.

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At Boston's Women's March for America, held the day after Inauguration Day.

At Boston's Women's March for America, held the day after Inauguration Day.

Harvard University's Music, Race, and Justice/Black Lives Matter conference. Pianist Karen Walwyn musically tells the story of slavery and the 2015 shooting at the Mother Emmanuel Church in S.C.

Harvard University's Music, Race, and Justice/Black Lives Matter conference. Pianist Karen Walwyn musically tells the story of slavery and the 2015 shooting at the Mother Emmanuel Church in S.C.

Filling the streets to protest the anti-immigration ban.

Filling the streets to protest the anti-immigration ban.

NOT SO SILENT MAJORITY: BOSTON WOMEN'S MARCH FOR AMERICA

Show me what democracy looks like, THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE.

A rallying chant heard not only across this country last weekend, but worldwide, as people gathered in general outrage to protest a president who has become a symbol of modern oppression. I was one of the hundred thousand that descended on Boston Common, historical birthplace of dissent and rebellion against domineering rulers, to speak up for human rights, dignity, environmental justice, and religious freedom.

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The morning of the march was cloudy and cold, but when I arrived a few hours before official start time, at least a thousand people were already milling about the Boston Common near a temporary stage set-up. TV cameras and crews were poised and reporters were giving early reports about the crowds and program for the day. There was giddy early morning dancing and photo-ops, eating breakfast muffins and drinking coffee, energy vibrating through the air.

After sound tests over the PA system, the crowd started cheering and a children's choir sang "America the Beautiful" before we were led in the Pledge of Allegiance. Then came a stream of speakers and entertainment, a mixture of politicians, artists, and activists.

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One of my favorite was an all female troupe of spunky Chinese dancers in dragon costumes to drive out all things evil and usher in the power of goodness and luck. Women were originally not allowed to participate in this particular dance, and these dancers were determined to prove how more than capable they were to express the steps!

Among the activists, Love Richardson-Williams, a tribal council member of the Fresh Water People of the Nipmuc Nation, spoke on behalf of Native American rights and environmental concerns, including the ongoing fight to protect sacred land at Standing Rock (Lakota Sioux Nation) from oil drilling. Tanisha M. Sullivan represented the Boston branch of the NAACP, the oldest in the country, and minister Mariama White-Hammond from Boston University School of Theology kept protesters entertained in between speakers with singing and jokes.

MA state senators Ed Markey and recent political rock star Elizabeth Warren gave rousing speeches, speaking of Massachusetts' long history of revolutionary protesting and keeping us on point for the day's meaning:

We are here today because of the power of women... to come up with good ideas like this rally, to organize, to make sure that as our country enters a new political era, that the voices of the people will be heard.

[see Warren's full speech here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0oGzqrVlxf0]

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Just as the final speaker was wrapping up, the sun burst out from behind the clouds, cheers erupted, and the protesters were on the move! I turned around and couldn't believe how many people had filtered in during the course of the speaking, spreading out across the park in waves of colors and signs, spilling out into the streets.

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As everyone dashed toward the protest route, there was soon a traffic flow problem and we were at a standstill for at least an hour. Despite the tight quarters, there was only smiling, singing, dancing to the music pumping through the speakers, even efficient finding of a doctor when someone became ill. Finally, our section of the crowd picked up steam and we moved forward onto Beacon street.

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And we marched, chanted, marched, laughed, marched, yelled. It was a sea of passionately painted and voiced opinion of all shapes, sizes and colors moving through the streets of Boston.

boundless costume creativity!

boundless costume creativity!

The afternoon sun started to sink, but as marchers came up on the Arlington Street Church, church bells encouraged the crowd forward.

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A marching band with musicians dressed in Revolutionary costume played "This Land is Your Land," and a nearby group of grey haired ladies in bright flag leggings sang "She Works Hard for Her Money..." Variations on the theme of 200+ years of American democracy seamlessly flowed through the streets.

On the subway going home, I saw a woman still holding her sign that said simply: "this is just the beginning." The positive spirit of the rally hung in the air of the subway car as people smiled at her and raised their own signs in solidarity. This reminded me of one of the activist speakers, Minister Mariama White-Hammond, who in her speech asked that we turn to the stranger standing next to us and look directly into their eyes, to say to them "I see you." It lasted about 5 seconds but felt timeless as I stared into the friendly brown eyes of a middle aged woman next to me and realized that maybe the most important part of this whole event was for this exact moment. For a few moments I was forced to look away from my phone and into the face of someone I would never have otherwise met. It’s one thing to hear about shootings, or civil rights struggles, to see a post on Facebook about being threatened for skin color or gender. But to march alongside a stranger for hours and to hear their voice, it's impossible not to start to wonder: what does it actually feel like to be this person? We think we know, but how much are we relying on assumptions and stereotypes? Social media is an tremendous connection tool, but there is something irreplaceable about the rich social connection that takes place with physical proximity. And today, to feel the volume of emotion, seemed like just the beginning to a deeply resonant resistance to President Trump.

 

For drawings of the DC protests by fellow artists

Veronica Lawlor, Julia Sverchuk, Kati Nawroki, Melanie Reim

and on Instagram: #womensmarchdraws

Happy Mother's Day

This mommy sparrow and her mate were dutifully watching over their nest of cheeping baby birds today in our yard. I watched them all spring as they built a cozy little pad in the birdhouse, lining it with lots of grass and bits string and plastic. Now the pair take turns flying out in search of food and sitting on the telephone line, keeping a close eye out for predators, day in and day out. What dedicated parents!

To all the moms out there, human, avian, or otherwise, much gratitude and love -- we can't do this without you!

Candles in the Dark: the Cambridge Holocaust Commemoration

The cellist here is Egor Antonenko playing a J.S. Bach prelude to open the Holocaust commemoration I attended last night. Every year, the city of Cambridge, MA, remembers the Holocaust with a community memorial service. My choir has had the honor of singing during this service the past few years, and yesterday we joined musicians, politicians, survivors, and local citizens to reflect, remember, and honor.

In many ways, this is a hard event to process; I felt resistance at first to opening up to the depth of the evening. But then the quiet strength of the cello and opening words of Rabbi Liza Stern drew me in.

Rabbi Stern: "The Holocaust doesn't go away -- it continues to have ripple effects today. But connecting the voices and sounds, the ritual of this moment, helps us stay grounded in a world that can seem so turbulent."

Rabbi Stern: "The Holocaust doesn't go away -- it continues to have ripple effects today. But connecting the voices and sounds, the ritual of this moment, helps us stay grounded in a world that can seem so turbulent."

 

The keynote speaker was Issac Jack Trumpetter, who survived Nazi-occupied Amsterdam by hiding with a foster family on a farm. Although he was one of the ones who survived the Nazi atrocities, his story is still full of pain and hardship.  He spent years with a farming family with rarely enough to eat, not knowing what had become of his real parents. He lived in a community so desperate, people often sucked on coal just to have the "carbon nourishment." He described how resourceful ordinary people had to be, how every decision, every action, was literally a matter of life and death, and sometimes pure luck was the only thing that separated one from brutality.

He talked passionately with a faint Queens, NY, accent, barely stopping for a breath , building a picture of such courage and strength the whole room seemed to hold its breath along with him, vividly transported back to war time Europe. Before he stepped down, he gave us a clue to how someone survives a thing like the Holocaust:

"there is no such thing as closure -- you put it away, and if you're lucky, you find a way to organize your life."

After Jack stepped down from the podium, our choir sang Ernest Bloch's Silent Devotion and Response (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RjccRTeSayI) and 6 candles were lit for 6 groups of minorities that have faced persecution due to intolerance. Watching the candles pass from hand to hand, I kept thinking about how such a small candle can give off such a powerful aura (visual, emotional) of light.

While the time of the Nazis and WWII feels in some ways far away,  we are arguably not that far from its intolerant climate : Isis gains ground every day, Israeli and Palestinians bomb each other every few months,  hate crimes are committed in my own backyard. But feeling the solidarity of everyone in the temple as we watched the 6 candles being lit, I was reminded that this is not just a little group in Massachusetts gathering to memorialize with a single Holocaust survivor. We are part of a larger light, a modern global community that places its faith in mutual support, inclusion and tolerance.

The pacifist priest Daniel Barrigan, who recently passed away, expressed this idea when he said: "in order to feel hope you have to do hopeful things."

I left the memorial feeling so sad, but also so hopeful.

candle1.jpg

 

 

Southwest Odyssey


I have been dreaming about the Southwest for years, staring at books of Ansel Adams' and Georgia O'Keefe landscapes and trying to imagine what that space would feel like.  I finally got my chance to see this land in person and it was more captivating than I'd even pictured! I'm back in the congestion of chilly Boston, but my mind won't let go of the roomy shapes and warm colors of Arizona and Utah... here is a taste of what I saw.

skies near Chinle, AZ

skies near Chinle, AZ

After landing in Phoenix, I couldn't wait to see the Grand Canyon, as advertised on all the Arizona license plates. Navigating the little red rental car through interstate traffic was daunting as my husband and I got our first taste of the modern American West: sprawling highways and eighteen-wheelers struggling through the rocky valleys to deliver oil and goods to surrounding states.

As we neared Flagstaff, we couldn't resist driving down iconic Route 66 where people still walk the shoulder and wave their thumbs for a ride. We stopped by the historic Music Club where musicians like Willie Nelson sang their hearts out on the little wooden stage. You can feel the heartache and wistfulness of their melodies in the dusty air blowing through the parking lot.

Back on the road, tall evergreens replaced dry sand and signs marked 7000 feet elevation as we neared the Canyon. We arrived just in time to see the rocks washed with pink and purple by the setting sun.

The next morning we ventured down into the Canyon on the Bright Angel Trail, trying not to look down on the more treacherous icy patches. The Grand Canyon in the late winter gets to upper 60 degrees during the day but will drop back down to the 30's at night, so many of the trails are still covered in sandy ice. We were joined by an international panoply of enthusiastic hikers; I was particularly struck by a hardy Amish couple twice my age who quickly passed us both descending and ascending!

It felt like we were walking for hours and the views in all directions were dizzying, although we only made it about 3 miles down. The Canyon is so vast, just when you think you have gotten your bearings visually and physically, the space opens up and swallows you again.

Later on, at the Yavapai Geology museum, we saw exhibits describing the Canyon as a kind of encyclopedia of geologic time as snapshots displayed the earth's history from over 1800 million years ago. It's hard to wrap your brain around that kind of time volume, but staring out at all those rock layers I saw people become quiet and kind to each other. Being in the presence of something so monumental and bigger than our modern material life seems to help us tune into the better parts of ourselves.

This family drew together as the sun began to set, lovely to watch as another day came to a close on the beautiful South Rim.

Coming soon: more drawings from our Southwest trip including adventures on the Navajo and Hopi reservations, and a hike across Utah's stunning Monument Valley!

Between Winter and Spring


The landscape is in seasonal transition: spring is technically here... but winter doesn't want to let go! I was drawing in the park yesterday and the clouds kept blowing over the sun, reminding me of the late New England snowfalls that cover the spring seedlings. You have to be really hardy to make it as a plant around here.

Music at the Library


Our town's library has a small music concert series and recently I was able to draw two great performances. The first was Debussy's quartet in g minor, performed by the Boston Public Quartet, the resident string ensemble of a non-profit called musiConnects   (http://www.musiconnects.org/boston-public-quartet.html). Making classical music relevant and engaging to a wide audience is a big part of their mission and they had the audience laughing and attentive as they explained how a quartet practices listening to each other and coordinating voices. Their love for the music and for the audience was inspiring to not only listen to but to watch as well.

The Debussy piece they played was unusual in that each of the four instruments took turnswith the melody, rather than it being dominated by the violin as often happens in string quartets. The sound was melodic enough to follow along but also very rhythmically experimental and contemporary.

The second performance was actually more of an informal lecture, featuring violinist Jennie Shames from the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and the BSO's public program director, Marc Mandel. Using recordings of Mahler and Shoshtakovich symphonies, interspersed with live examples from Jennie, they illustrated the way composers build musical ideas -- like stringing sentences together into longer paragraphs -- and the contrasting moods created with key shifts.

The recordings were lovely, but when Jennie played the audience was captivated, especially when she described the way she always tries to gently pull the sound out of the violin rather than attacking it.

Especially in New England, where late March brings just as much cold as spring sun, classical chords echoing through the library halls is just the thing to keep our little town warm.