There is something about sketching on location. Be it in front of I.M. Pie’s Louvre Museum, the Newark Reservoir, or the kitchen at my sister’s place in Ohio. The pen lines and watercolor strokes, while bringing out a certain form on the otherwise empty paper, also trap within them a slice of the Now. Let me give you an example. Last night, I sketched Homer Simpson behind the wheels.
I look at the sketch now, and in my head plays the song Let’s go surfing by Joakim Karud as that was part of the 33-minute long ‘Chill Vibes’ playlist that had Simpson’s visual as its cover image. I look at the sketch and I am crowded with a mosaic of images including that of my husband reading a book (Keepers of the Kaalachakra by Ashwin Sanghi) while laying on the couch, scenes from the Netflix series Outlander that we had watched that evening, the taste of stir-fried turnip and brown rice that we had had for dinner — the sketch, within it, keeps the memory of all these images and more.
You can check out my other sketches here. Feedbacks are most welcome.
There was no big celebration inside the hotel room. Outside, the whole town of Nice had come together for the annual carnival. Abba’s Dancing Queen blared from the speakers. We walked past children with painted faces, adults with masked ones. Past the line of high-end boutiques and restaurants with al fresco settings warmed by outdoor heaters. We stood watching the sleepy Mediterranean sea gulp down the hot sun and turn grey.
Back in our hotel room, we switched on a French reality TV show. The participants seemed angry. Probably used expletives. But in French, the words shed their bitterness. It was a new moon night, a pitch dark sky engulfed the last hours of my 20s. When I woke up, I expected a new world. But the sun was already on its long slow dive into the sea. And the sea… the sea lay with a certain disinterest, stretching its blueness like a long yawn, stripping the day of its significance.
That morning, my husband and I caught the train from Gare de-Nice Ville in Nice, to Gare de-Lyon in Paris. We walked along the fifth arrondissement to a bright blue door at 74 Rue du Cardinal Lemoine, where writer Ernest Hemingway lived and loved. Here’s probably where he wrote ‘The end of something’, we wondered while lunching at an Armenian restaurant amid French-speaking crowd. It was our last night in France, we spent it in a hotel that stood floating on Seine.
From inside, we watched the resilient river reflecting with clarity, the bridges that rose from it, the tall yellow street lights, and the high-rise buildings that shimmered in the background. The reflections danced the entire night. Until the dawn swallowed them just like it did the last of my 20s.
Time sometimes severs some relationships so far apart that you have to unspool some old threads of memory to sew them up. Like when meeting a high school friend after long — every conversation inadvertently begins with “Remember when…”
On the week preceding our second year anniversary, we find ourselves at the garden center of Home Depot. From among a plethora of options including Boston Ferns, Burgundy rubber plants and Yucca canes, our eyes rest on a modest looking plant named Peace Lily. Its white shell-shaped flowers wrap around a baby corn-like spadix like a secret. We bring it home, and place it next to our bookshelf. Haruki Murakami’s Dance Dance Dance, and Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink are its new friends. Every once in two days, we water it. Every friend that comes home drenches it further in compliments.
Two weeks hence, we find a new baby leaf. Elated, we buy a new overarching acrylic shade floor lamp, just to shine on it.
Everything is peaceful, until one morning we find a leaf turning yellow. It slowly wilts and falls. The yellow, like over-watered paint, spreads on other leaves, and then to the creamy white of the flower. Concerned, we move it closer to the window hoping the first rays of sunlight would heal it. We fill our living room with plant friends — Anthurium, Kalanchoe, and chocolate mint; we feed it sugar; and till the soil with surgical care. We also bring in the Masters. Vivaldi, Chopin and Beethoven. Every morning, at the strike of dawn, they fill the house with music.
But Lily seems obstinate. She continues to shed some leaves, sprout some. She has grown taller ever since, but now and then, as if overcome by a sense of sadness, her leaves droop and turn color. She is not ideal, but she is resilient. Full of peace, hope and beauty. Just like love, just like a relationship.
Aren’t we glad that – on the week preceding our second year anniversary, we found ourselves at the garden center of Home Depot.
The first time I made an angel in the snow; that cold cold day when we bought our first car; the lazy evenings spent in hammock at our friends’ place in New Jersey; the freshness of a six-month-old wedding; and the exhaustion of moving into a new house… we have captured them all. These fleeting moments remain immortalized in 1.8 * 2.4 inch photos, lit now and then by soft yellow LED bulbs. They are souvenirs of moments drenched in love. Little reminders that life is good. Bursts of memories that keep us warm on cold sunless days.
In Miami, Florida, our feet coated with wet sand, we enter the quiet galleries of The Bass to see veteran artist Sheila Hicks’ show titled Campo Abierto (translates to Open Field).
Walking inside a gallery is akin to the experience of turning the pages of a new book, embracing the strangeness, yet hoping to connect with a character. Hicks’ art bypasses this strangeness with the burst of color in her works; like skittles scattered on the floor, like rainbows kneaded into round balls.
For example, standing before Escalade Beyond Chromatic Lands, a fabric installation of gigantic balls of yarn stacked up till the ceiling, we fight the urge to collapse on the fluffy bed. The weaves evoke a sense of mischief, innocence, and playfulness. The installation, which takes one entire room, demands the same space in our minds too.
Sheila, 85, was born in Nebraska, and went to Yale University School of Art, where she had the opportunity to study under American German artist Josef Albers. Albers is a Bauhaus designer and artist – he went to Bauhaus Design School in Germany, which was shut down by the Nazis in 1933. However, the thought that the school preached — of combining fine art and craft and bridging the gap between art and industry — kick-started a movement called Bauhaus Movement. It embraced symmetry over asymmetry and focussed on lines, shape and color, instead of floral and ornamental designs. Hicks’ works are simple, minimalist, and geometric. They concur with the Bauhaus principles.
Hicks, who divides her time between Paris and New York, discovered her medium, the fibre, when she went to Chile, on a scholarship from Yale, many moons ago. Over the decades, her mission has been to give textile medium a new meaning. The subtle gold and beige La memoire, made of linen silk and cotton, the naturally handspun Morroccan rug, and The Silk Rainforest made of linen silk and cotton, stand proof to this.
The exhibition ends tomorrow (September 29, 2019).
Lancaster is an old town. Nearly 250 years old. The layers of history unfold in the Victorian buildings, row houses, arterial roads. For a friend’s farewell, we, a group of eight, headed to this historic town, on a whim. The two-hour drive from Newark, Delaware, to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, was a breeze. The tough part was finding a parking spot in the downtown area. The roads looked clogged, dotted with cars on either side. The houses stood next to each other, generously sharing their walls.
Our Airbnb was a three-storeyed apartment in white limestone. A stark contrast to the rest of the houses that were dark, dingy, and supported by layers of stained bricks. Inside, the decor was straight out of an IKEA catalog. Chic chandeliers, tall lamps, rustic dining table, minimalist artworks, and artificial plants. Warm yellow light reflected on its white walls, white comforters, white tiles and our pale faces.
Fully furnished, well-equipped, and smart locked (the main door) — the house could be called ‘modern’, but for the toilet doors, which, akin to pre-1970s architecture, lacked locks. The fireplace switched on with the touch of a switch, and wax-less candles brightened up the room. But the ceiling, much like in Victorian castles, extended forever; and the floors groaned at every step. The bedroom doors had to be shut using a chair, and the attic beds baked under the morning sunlight. Next to a nice round Google Nest rose a wooden shelf with rows of cutlery that no one could reach. The kitchen opened to an alleyway, that led to a private porch from where you could see the popular-in-the-past grid pattern of streets spread out.
On an evening, we drove to the Central Market and filled out carts with ambrosia apples and apricots. Built in 1889, it the one of the oldest continuously run farmer’s market in the United States. We walked along the paved roads in the downtown area, and saw expensive cars chasing one another, groups of youngsters hopping from one bar to another, and rows of ancient buildings trying hard to blend in with the new ones. Of course, some couldn’t, like the Lancaster Prison building, which stood out like a king’s abode in an otherwise modest town.
In the night, we heard passersby and speeding cars on the street below; in the morning, we woke up with the chatter of kids in the playground nearby. When it was time to go, we caused a traffic jam, our car swallowing up the entire road, waiting for our friends to get in. When they did, we drove away from the old town, past several Amish carriages, farms and bakery, onto younger suburbs — content to know that we could always go back a couple of centuries in a couple of hours.
“There is something strange about settling in to a new place, the laborious adaptation and familiarization…” wrote Mann in Der Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain). And as my husband and I journey through these times, I cannot help, but think about the home that we moved from.
We started our lives there as a newly married couple. Everything was new, right from the feel of the carpet to the workings of a relationship. But as we grew familiar with sharing a holder for our toothbrushes, a rack for our bath towels, and one closet for all our shoes and clothes, we also grew familiar with the grey doors, eggshell-painted walls, and the smooth wide kitchen counter top.
Together, we made the house our own; covering the floors with purple rugs, and walls with paintings — some done in the quiet of a weekday afternoon, some done on a cheerful evening after a glass or two of wine. Some mornings, as we sat soaking in the first rays of sunlight leaking in through the window, we sensed the sound that was unique to our home. It was a mix of the traffic noise on Philadelphia Pike, the melancholic call of mourning doves, and the muffled footsteps of our neighbors upstairs.
These days, on afternoons, as I sit sipping tea, I can’t help but think about the goings on in the world that we left behind. Around this time is when an elderly lady in her long skirt, and full-sleeved shirt came out with her Chihuahua that had a small limp; she would most often pass a group of kids walking back from the pool, still in their colorful neon swim clothes. Here, in the new place, afternoons are marked by the sight of a jet black cat lounging under a pine tree, grooming itself leisurely. There is indeed something strange about settling in to a new place. The laborious adaptation and familiarization…