Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Art of a Dark and Stormy Night

I lay in bed last night listening to the wind and rain thinking, "it's a dark and stormy night alright." I actually like wind and rain because it always gets me thinking. Let me clarify that... I like it when I'm safely tucked up in bed and not out in it. Rainy nights are always good for a trip down memory lane.

My days of sailing usually are at the top of the list. The basic rule of thumb when living on board is, "I'd rather be in this harbour wishing I was out there, than out there wishing I was in here." Bad weather is part and parcel of sailing but if you can avoid it, so much the better.

I've been through way too many 'will I survive this?' storms or bad conditions at sea but a few are up in the top 10 of bad. This is one of them.

On a moody January morning in 1986 Lee and I set sail from Morocco bound for Tenerife in the Canary Islands on a delivery of a bare bone Swan 37. They are Swedish built and one of the best sailing boats in the world. The weather was threatening but we were on the clock, which is never a good thing when sailing. The weather worsened steadily and soon we were barreling along under storm sail over raucous waves. The heavens just opened and belted us with heavy rain every time I went on watch.

It stayed bad for nearly three days, really bad. We had some scary incidents with unidentifiable ships and a few other mysterious, but quite funny, happenings. We were exhausted and very wet by the end of it as we had to hand steer the whole time. Water leaked in to our lockers and we had absolutely no dry clothes. Lee gets seasick the first couple of days out - he's fine when on the helm or flat out in his bunk. It's the in between bits that are difficult for him. I strapped myself to the stove a couple of times a day to make hot chocolate and a simple version of French toast. This sustenance was about all we could manage because the boat was bashing around so much.

I was on watch as a dull dawn broke, the wind started to lighten and the rain became a drizzle. The Atlantic swells were enormous. You had to steer up at an angle and then run down the other side at an angle. I was doing the wave zigzag when I saw dolphins playing in the big swells in the distance. I was just delighted. Dolphins make you feel safe and happy. My cheerful state of joy dimmed as we drew closer and I realized it wasn't dolphins, it was a pod of whales. The swells were so bloody big, they made the whales look small. I remember my heart sinking as I wondered, "Will this never end?" It did eventually, a weak sun came out, the sea calmed and we shook out the sails.
Later we festooned the railings with our clothes to dry. We sailed naked and free and laughed loudly at the exhilaration of the storm ending. A big school of dolphins - really dolphins this time - joined us and started playing across our bows. We were finally able to put the auto pilot on before we both rushed to the bow. It was a spectacle of fun. The dolphins rose out the water on their tails and chattered at us before diving and racing through the bow wave. It's one of the most wonderful sights in the world. Their happy faces and antics drove away any misery and fear.

Dark and stormy nights often bring that trip back to me and I still wonder about that ship we couldn't identify...what it was, it's size or the direction it was going. And I am always very grateful indeed to be snug in my warm bed thinking about being out there, rather than being out there wishing I was in here.
At the start of the trip as the weather was starting to build. No time to take photos after this till the end of the trip! Lee should have had his safety harness attached to the wheel...he got yelled at.

Finally dry-ish and heading in to Los Christianos, Tenerife

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Art of Spirit Influence

I wrote this blog in January 2013. I'm re-blogging it - is there such a word? I am not getting out of writing a blog this week, it's just appropriate. I went and took a sculpture workshop when I got my fellowship last year. 
I have always had a hankering to do sculpture. Now I know how long it takes, I know I will not be doing much but I will continue. I bought the tools, I have a vague idea how to do it and will on occasion continue with it. I was drinking my coffee this morning and looking at my small piece, Warm Welcome, and thought I can see how Nana influenced me. 
And so … meet Nana. Here's the old blog
Last week when I wrote about my friend, Nana Berthelot - a wonderful sculptor in Mallorca, in the Balearics... it brought an avalanche of special memories of our time together for a couple of years when we lived there. Lee and I were living on our 30' sailboat, mostly anchored in the bay off Puerto Colom, a delightful small town with a big natural harbour and an atmospheric old town with high rampart walls and large cathedral dominating it's skyline.
Our mode of transport was 2 fold-up bicycles... old and rather rusty but they worked. Nana lived in a finca surrounded by olive groves in the tiny village of Son Prohens a couple of kilometers away. We'd often ride our bikes over with food in our front baskets. We'd prepare the meal while she worked away at chipping stone. When it was ready, we'd set the table under a tree away from her dusty work and we'd all enjoy a long leisurely meal and wine, talking and laughing.
Other times she'd drive by the harbour, hoot at us, we'd row over and hop in the car and go with her to the quarry to order stone. She drove a little Renault 5 and we'd go barreling down in to the dark mouth of the quarry inside a mountain. I was always sure we'd get lost down there but Nana drove with great panache and speed through dark tunnels, stopped at the right place, placed her order and we'd shoot out the mouth of mountain in to the sun without mishap every time. The day after placing her order a flatbed truck would show up at her olive grove and begin dumping the pieces off haphazrdly. She left them where they were and whether they were horiztonal or vertical, on their sides or flat it didn't matter ... the stone told her what do create.
This photo is of 2 pieces in progress - they weathered naturally as she worked on them since they sat out exposed to all the elements. The man's legs behind the tree are a friend of ours who is about 6 foot, so you can get some sense of scale. These were 2 of her smaller pieces.

Nana's real name is Anne, but everyone called her Nana - a beautiful, tranquil woman who makes beautiful things, we are fortunate indeed to know her. I can hear her lilting voice with her fractured English, mixed with Spanish and French as I write this. Such happy, treasured memories.
And back to today:

Here is my wee piece. You can see how her creative spirit helped drive mine. I am astounded I didn't see it before! I met Nana in the 1980's.. and here in 2013 her influence comes to me. How wonderful is that!?
Please visit my website and my new website on my books... it's early days with this one but it's a start!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Art of the Senses

This Throwback Thursday thing on Facebook sure has got the old mind reminiscing over my long and eventful life. A smell, a sound, a song, a taste, a view triggers the memory. Smell works big time for me.
When I go home for a visit, I step off the plane at Oliver Tambo Airport and the scent of Africa brings tears to my eyes. You might think you can't smell much at an airport except fuel but that is not the case in Africa. It has a distinct smell that is wild and strong and just wonderful. I could smell it when I got off planes in Nairobi, Niamey, Luanda, Casablanca and Cairo to mention just a few. North Africa is slightly different to Central and Southern Africa but still it's there. And just a whiff of it takes me home. Africa is the only continent that has a distinctive smell.
Just as the scent of Africa takes me home, the aroma of cooking takes me back to places I've lived or visited. I had a little 27 foot sailboat when I lived in Greece. It was sheer pleasure poddling around the islands like Aegina or Poros at weekends or venturing further afield for longer trips during holidays. There was one tiny island in the Saronic Gulf, too small to be inhabited but large enough to walk on and we called it Thyme Island. I have no idea what it's real name was. As you neared it, then passed it the heavy smell of wild thyme filled the air. Simple, clean and pure.
Plop garlic in to olive oil or butter and it fills all the senses. It also starts a culinary journey in my mind. And that's the power and true enjoyment of food. It often happens, a meal guides the conversation around countries or cities or villages of the world. At the smell or taste of something I return to the small outdoor restaurant on the coast of Italy, the floating markets of Thailand or the magical meat pie shop in the mountains of Australia.
Songs always remind you of something – a celebration, an embarrassment, a moment in time, a past lover or a certain place. We spent two years driving 18-wheelers around the USA which was certainly an adventure. If I ever write a book about those two years I should call it “Driving a Song.” There are such iconic songs and lyrics about so many places in this country, you can't help but yodel a few lines as you barrel along the highway. We often threatened each other with ghastly deeds if we heard a terrible rendition along the lines of, “Take me home country road, West Virginia” one more time. Neither of us can carry a tune for the life of us, simply dreadful singing voices.
Art has the same power of triggering memories. I can look at a piece in my collection and have instant recall of where I was, who the artist is, if I knew them as a friend or the happy time I experienced when I got it. People should look at art like this...its not how much it cost or how traditional it is or what technique the artist used. It should make you catch your breath, touch all your senses and bring a smile to your heart.

I am so grateful I have thousands of interesting memories and lots of great art . It's a privilege.
Top: 27 Foot Daybreak anchored off a Greek island
Below: 30 Foot La Rochelle, my home for nearly 5 years, anchored in the bay of Cabrera, our favourite island in the Spanish Balerics.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

The Art of Good Ignorance

I am not sure why I always try something new, especially when I have no idea what I am doing. I have had this foolish trait all my life and it doesn't seem to be going away any time soon.
When I was young and looked fabulous, I dated this really rich farmer who had his own plane. One day when he flew down to see me, I met him at the airport as we were going to fly along the coast for a while to go somewhere for lunch. Once we were in the air, I said, without giving it any thought at all, “Can I fly the plane?” The idiot said yes and gave me control of the Cessna. Well, the next few minutes got very exciting as he realized I'd said, “Can I” not “May I” … because I very obviously couldn't.
He took over and landed the plane looking a touch pale. He immediately flew off back to his big farm and the romance never recovered. I believe he thought I was a tad reckless.
Shortly thereafter I found myself in a new country with my first husband, no wealthy farmer, delivering sailboats from the U.K. to the Mediterranean via the dreaded Bay of Biscay. The first boat we delivered was a 34 foot catamaran.
On the second night out from Cornwall a violent storm blew up. Bad weather always seems to start at night, the weather gods love playing wee jokes on sailors. The boat crashed, wobbled and lurched alarmingly under it's teeny storm sail as I tried to keep the boat stable while the wheel felt like it had a life of it's own. I clearly recall saying out loud, “What the hell am I doing? Oh! thank God, Mum can't see me now.”
So I started a serious negotiation with God about how good I'd be if he just let me live through this. God wasn't impressed with my negotiating skills, nor did he believe me since I hadn't prayed or thought of him in years.
The storm raged all night but calmed a bit to a grey sullen dawn, by which time I was back on watch. The swells were large and threatening in the misty pale light. I was gazing out and thinking how surprisingly quiet it was, I felt I was the only person in the whole world. I just listened to the slap of water and whoosh of a swell passing the hulls and wondered whether I ought to try thanking God or would that just irritate him.
Suddenly the sea beside me started bubbling and roiling and I nearly had a heart attack as a submarine barreled out of the depths to the surface beside us. I don't know if you've ever been up close and personal with a submarine but they are not friendly looking vessels. Menacing to say the least. It motored off without opening it's conning tower to wave at me which I thought rather rude. It obviously wasn't the Royal Navy. They would have acknowledged our blue duster. The owner of the boat was a retired Royal Navy commander thus we could fly the blue. I often speculated why he didn't sail his own boat to the Med.
But I swore there and then I would give up this sailing tiny boats across oceans for good. Naturally after that I delivered more boats, spent another entire season on a racing boat in the Solent, went on to own two of my own in the Med., living on one for nearly 5 years – you get the picture.
So, what is the moral of the story here? I got to thinking about these various episodes in my life after a friend commented on a previous post how she hated change but admitted it can be a good thing. My life seems to revolve around change so I guess it works for me.
There have been a lot of other “not knowing what I am doing” episodes but I shan't go in to them...too long a list. The point is I started off blindly ignorant, learned how things worked by trial and error mostly, and once I got the hang of it, I set off to try something new.
Here I am doing it again. Writing and illustrating two books. One for children. I've never had children nor had much to do with them. I started out without checking dimensions and such necessary techie things and now find myself having to start over.
I think it's a good thing though ... I am looking at it differently, doing a little more research but it's going slowly. Okay, some days I just ignore it and call it a thinking day.

Really, what is this? A thinking day? Well, hey, you gotta fool yourself sometimes to remain sane. It works for me anyway.
"After the Storm" Acrylic on cradled wooden panel 24" x 12" Still available $650
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