NO CAMERAS reads the unfriendly signage posted at the threshold to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. I understand the reluctance to expose a Grand Opera performance to pendejas pendejos firing flashbulbs during Thaïs’ meditation, or relentlessly grabbing exposures as the sets grow more fabulous with every scene and act.
My gosh, that gorgeous explosion of red in Thaïs’ bedroom closing the second act. I would have loved to take that foto. But NO CAMERAS read all those signs. They mean no good cameras, the Music Center doesn’t give a hoot that everyone and his tenor carry cell phones that take fotos.
A friend invites Barbara and me to Hispanics for Los Angeles Opera’s 16th Annual Placido Domingo Awards. This is a fabulous gala where my friend’s employer buys a table annually to support the community. We attend the closing night of Thaïs, sip wine entr’actes, then feast a gluten-free dinner that starts around ten. I will be home by 1:30.
Like me, my host cannot tolerate gluten, so while wheateaters munch chocolate something, we have a wonderful plate of sliced fruit, like a Mexican breakfast.
This evening, the catering company, Patina, goes to extraordinary lengths to meet demands of people with food allergies while not diminishing the elegance of the experience. Rarely has a restaurant been as attentive as Patina this night.
This year’s awardee, composer/educator Lee Holdridge delights the packed floor when he relates his mother is Puerto Rico born. His official bio tells of his Haitian birth. Of great significance to this group of gente from here, plus the consulados of Mexico and Guatemala, is Holdridge’s role, with Domingo, in bringing Opera to hundreds of thousands of school children in Los Angeles.
With raza being “the largest demographic” in the region, educational outreach makes good sense in building future audiences for Opera in Los Angels, and building membership of Hispanics for Los Angeles Opera. I started attending events here on Bunker Hill the year I returned from the Army. Never have I heard so many people speaking Spanish, and in a packed auditorium. Not at Zoot Suit, Blade to the Heat, or a Culture Clash main stager.
So, at first glance, the recruitment idea of attracting local raza to the Music Center, much less the Opera, has a ring of irony. Raza-dominant schools are in the poorest parts of the city. Gente surviving at minimum wage or unemployed in large numbers. Immigrants stepping in filling gaps left by generational change. Generations moving up and out. Gente live cycles of aspiration and rising expectation that normally don't include going to The Opera.
The audience tonight offers a reminder that raza is not a monolithic culture but made up complexes of associations grown from economy, experience, schooling, taste, human variation like everyone else's culture. This group loves Opera, music, arte. Like everyone else.
Enthusiasm and joy break out when Maestro calls the performers to the front for a group foto. It's a signal for a montón of camera-carrying gente to crowd around and get their own souvenirs. I have an iPod touch that makes movies and I'm up there with the crowd, too. I restrain myself from getting a foto standing with Placido Domingo. The line is pretty long.
Looking around it's good not being the only Chicano in the place. Gente here wear fine gowns and suits--tuxes on some of the men. Todos all fitting in like they belong in this elegance. Sabes que? There’s not irony but one of any number of futures.
Kids tomorrow who become first to attend college in their familias will find themselves at positions where they’ll echo what Langston Hughes wrote, tomorrow, no one will send me to eat in the kitchen. I'll sit out here with the crystal chandelier crowd.
There is irony in the beauteous evening. As I’m giving my ticket to the Valet windows, there’s a vato joking in Spanish with the parking vatos who fetch his fancy car for him. The workers are probably hoping all the guests split fast, not wanting to miss the last bus. The Mexicano doesn't tip the vato holding the door open.
Epiphyllum Flowers Nature's On-line Floricanto
My people are gardeners. On my father's side, my grandfather developed the Tangelo on a ranch out beside the Salton Sea. Some agronomist got the patent and the cash. When we visited my grampa out on the ranch he'd take us through the huertas pointing out the diverse fruits he was cultivating. On my mother's side, red-blooming ephiphyllum cacti occupied treasured spots in gardens.
Some call these "orchid cactus," my gramma termed them "rosas." Her collection featured two colors, a prolific and small-flowered Red and a dinner plate sized White. I have cuttings from those, and all of my mother's surviving specimens.
My mother had epiphyllum fever and I caught it from her. These blossoms provide wonders, many only at night. In their full glory, as in these floral portraits, epiphyllum cacti provide a few hours joyous spectacle before light, heat, gravity, and time see it collapse into itself. Desiccated, their blossoms refuse to be ignored, beautiful corpses.
Only a few flowers have discernible scent, and when they have, it's often a gentle perfume that lingers only in the trumpet of the flower. A few blossoms flood the area around with a soft sweetness penetrating one's senses, at first unaware, and upon realization, I swoon from breathing this undeniably earthly air.
This triple flowering penca offers a rare--at least in my garden--sight. The middle blossom opened the day after the two outside buds opened.
Color, like the variegated orange, purple, and red of this flower, makes each blossom a special and unique experience.
This white blossom features brilliant yellow emanations and a sweet penetrating perfume. Its lingering scent makes a gardener think he's accomplished something special, when it's the plant doing all the miracles here.
Viewed from afar, an epiphyllum blossom offers a stunning sight. Macrophotography offers vistas unaided eyes won't get to enjoy. The fluorescent purple edges of two blossoms frame a single pollen-bearing anther. The red-orange variegation in the center of each petal glows from the low morning sunlight shining through.
A blossom comes together as uniquely as anything in nature. Much of the fun in macrophotography is showing strikingly unique instances of uniqueness. Light shining behind this flower illuminates the white colored transition from base to flower. Shadowy filaments curve from their green origin, capped by anthers. Normally white or yellow, the light comes through the color of the surrounding petals.
Female male elements. The white star below--the Stigma in botanical nomenclature--catches male pollen and carries it into the ovary. If the right moth, bat, or other critter happens by and brings anther dust into contact with stigma, in all likelihood a pitaya forms deep in the throat of the floral trumpet.
The likelihood of the right critter happening by is dim, however. These plants do not produce fruitful pitaya. At any rate, any that I've suspected of bearing good seed never germinated.
There's a joyful frisson that runs through me when I print a floral portrait. According to the manufacturer of my inks and paper, a print will last me, or whoever buys it, 100 years. The large images printed on 13" x 19" paper make spectacular wall hangings singly or grouped.
Photographers notes. Canon T2i, 100mm f/2.8 macro USM. ISO100, 400, and 800. f/32, others. I set the camera on a tripod and use an RF remote to expose.
Email me if you'd like access to the full gallery of prints.
Reading Your Stuff Aloud
Bluebird Reading Returns From Hiatus
There are times when taking a one-month break between poetry readings sounds like a disease. Jessica Ceballos and an exciting company of poets recovered spectacularly from their bout of hiatus and showed it at Avenue 50 Studio Sunday. If it's the second Sunday of a month, unless someone comes down with a bout of hiatus, it's Bluebird Reading Series day with host Jessica Ceballos
Ceballos launches the summer with a beautiful line up featuring Angel Garcia, Ariel Maccarone, Donny Jackson, and Kelly Grace Thomas. Open mic'ers included Karineh Mahdessian via Skype from Israel. Signing on Sunday were Don Kingfisher Campbell, Don Newton, Alejandro Duarte, Wyatt Underwood, Regina Higgins, Kimberly Cobian, Christopher Wayne Thompson, Sara Borjas, Justin Wallace Kibbe.
Angel Garcia makes his debut spotlight reading as the first reader. It's one of the pleasures of attending Bluebird readings semi-regularly, seeing a poet grow in both expression and confidence in front of an audience.
I saw Angel in February reading at Avenue 50's companion series La Palabra. He stood with his back against the wall as far from the audience as he could get, holding his cell phone display in both hands. His thoughtful work deserved better treatment. It's getting there.
June sees Angel step forward, uses the lectern as home base. He rests his electronic manuscript on the lectern, freeing his hands for gesture. As with many poets, he might consider memorizing his work to allow eye contact and to liberate himself from that tiny screen--early in his reading he jokes how tiny. I have a prejudice against lecterns, so with no mic to hold a person in one spot, readers like Angel should feel free to move away and face the audience without barriers. At any rate, Angel will want to work in a few gestures with his arms and hands.
Ariel Maccarone weaves intricate ideas in tightly compressed prose pieces she doesn't have a name for. Someone in the audience suggests "flash fiction" and Maccarone goes with the flow. That's fitting given the flow of her ideas and how she builds expressions sometimes finding a sparkling phrase in intense moments of emotion, anger, assessment.
She reads very fast, a pace not effective for complex phrasing and intricate ideas that go into the tight, short pieces. Slowing down improves a reader's articulation and protects the writer's words from disappearing. All that work and the audience has to listen hard to catch what can be caught.
There's a world of benefit to a listener's enjoyment, and the work itself, from slowing down and investing that time with more careful attention to expressing words with their content rather merely their sound. Speed generally is your enemy.
Audiences forgive any number of missed expressive opportunities because it's a rare reader who reads their stuff with strategic consideration of their performance. Bluebird attracts new visitors every month, as well as a handful of regulars. Keep the new ones coming back and reward the regulars by adding small increments of interpretation to the performance. And, as many in the house are poets themselves, an effective reading invariably inspires others to copy the leader.
Donny Jackson makes his Bluebird debut. He's clearly a practiced veteran reader, a writer comfortable with his work. This poet puts his heart on display in every piece. His poetry holds his artistry as much as his identity in the subjects and eloquence of his writing.
Jackson works from memory. He has the manuscript pages on the lectern, but they're only an aide memoire, a place to return--home base--after he steps away to use the open space for broad gestures and unimpeded body language.
Like many seasoned performers, Jackson has grown comfortable with his distinctive style and has settled into it as a habit. Each piece he shares comes with distinction but also a sameness of delivery, pace, vocalics--particularly whispering, and gesture. Just as each poem has its uniqueness, its reading should illustrate that.
Audiences welcome variety within a reading and within a program. Jackson kept apologizing, saying the next one won't be so dark. And it is. He's a fine writer and a capable performer, so the audience thinks they're having a good time.
Video brings an incredibly useful tool to a writer's self accountability. Seeing oneself on screen, recognizing skills, habits and other opportunities, can be apotheosis. Self-confrontation provides effective lessons that readily transcend well-wishers who tell a reader "great read" because what else is there to say? As capable as a person is today, there should always be one element to work on for the next reading; something new, something less, something more, something not at all.
Kelly Grace Thomas closes the featured reader segment with a polished, highly expressive presentation that illustrates the truism "it ain't what you say but how you say it." This means audiences will remember not merely the sound and fury but the full technology of the body.
Bluebird's host, Avenue 50 Studio, features fine art exhibitions. Thomas dresses for the occasion in a fabric that evokes abstract art like Miró or Kandinsky, a perfect fit to the ambience of the gallery. The show features Raoul de la Sota's textile sketches of Spain. A few red dots are good news to the gallery and artist.
Thomas treats her audience better than she treats herself. She's all dressed up with no place to go, stuck behind that darned lectern! A writer labors over every word until the piece is ready for its public. An effective presenter like Thomas reads so her words flow with idea and expression rather than the length of her poetic line. Her face shares the moment, the energy of the reading wants to escape through her hands.
And there's that darned lectern. Blocking the view and holding Thomas back, stuck in one spot.
A reader wants to have a home base "up there," and the lectern's part of the ritual. The poet likely knows the piece so well that the paper can sit on the shelf and the reader can step to the side, glancing away from the audience only occasionally to catch her place. Using big type increases page count and legibility. Since the reader isn't reading pages but words, go for legibility every time.
There's nothing stopping a reader from picking up the page and moving away into the available space. Handling the manuscript is just another skill in a reader's repertoire.
Bluebird Open Mic
Clockwise from topleft: Hanne Steen and Marci Carillo PEN recruiters, Christopher Wayne Thompson, Justin Wallace Kibbe, Sara Borjas
Alejandro Duarte, Wyatt Underwood, Karineh Mahdessian via Skype, Kimberly Cobian. Cobian's two minutes of high energy offered welcome variety from many of today's Open Mic readers.
Don Kingfisher Campbell reads from a poetry card he printed for each member. Don Newton is one of the Deans of Northeast LA poetry. Kimberly Cobian illustrates one useful way to hold her manuscript, standing away from the lectern. Regina Higgins.