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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Trees of Life: The Passing Nature of Art

HTG's mother was an artist. She painted porcelain, which is a very Victorian lady thing to do.

One of the things I loved about her art was that it was beautiful, but exceptionally fragile. One rambunctious two-year-old could wipe out years of work in about 4.7 seconds. (Yes, I'm talking about you, Lukey!)

Porcelain painting has a tough aspect, too. The artist paints the piece, and then fires it in a kiln to about 1500 degrees. The glaze on the porcelain actually melts, and the paint becomes a part of it. The artist then goes through the process again: a little more paint, another firing, another melting and cooling process.

Each of her pieces required a minimum of three firings. To get a really dark color, she could paint and fire a piece 5 or 6 times.

Of course, push the piece too far, and it would melt in the kiln like a three dimensional Dali painting. It was always a sad day when Mom opened the kiln's lid to find a mess like that in the bottom of it.

All of that is to say that my favorite artists are those artists who know that their art will be fleeting, and that it is somehow fragile in time. Paintings fade, sculptures erode, glass and porcelain breaks.

Maybe that's why I love the tree carvings that are sprouting (pun intended) up all over Galveston, Texas.

Or maybe I love them because they're just cool.

A little background: in 2008, Hurricane Ike roared through Galveston (verbiage on a t-shirt I saw there last month: Hurricane Ike: Category Two, My Ass!), creating a huge storm surge in the island's historic East End. During its visit, it displaced about nine feet of salty water, which sat in the neighborhood for a day or two.

The 100-year old live oaks (ahh, the irony) didn't like the salt, and many of them ended up dying.

Rather than keep these skeletal reminders of the storm around, most people cut them down and ground the stumps into sawdust.

But some people left about six feet of stump and had them carved into beautiful, transient pieces of art. Because wood, like porcelain, is ultimately fragile, especially when left in the elements.

But transience only makes these pieces more awesome, because you know that you have a limited time to enjoy them. I don't know how long--maybe 30 years, maybe 5.

So, given the fleeting nature of both art (and life), let's check 'em out:

I'm going to start with my favorite. This is my boyfriend, Tinny. He is all decked out for Mardi Gras. If you'd like to visit him (don't even try to date him, lest I have to get all Angry Lion on you), you can find him at 1702 Winnie.

Why a tin man? Because King Vidor, an uncredited director of the Wizard of Oz, was born in the house. King directed all the Kansas scenes in the Wizard, which are some of my favorite. According to Wikipedia (and they're never wrong, right?) he also did a film on the Storm of 1900. If any of you have more information on that, I'd be very interested to hear more!

In the meantime, I visit Tinny as much as I can. And I plan to name my next child and/or fish King. Because I don't think he'd be teased that much in second grade, do you?

King is a great name for a dog, of course, particularly given the kind of treatment that many household pets today seem to enjoy. Here are a couple of dogs that even I could own: they're cute and they never bark at six in the morning.

The Great Dane on the left is at 1228 Sealy (he looks like a "King", doesn't he?). Some ne'er do well has stolen his left paw since I took this shot...I hope that a dog attacks that person and karma-cly gnaws off his arm as soon as possible.

Spotty, on the right, is in front of the firehouse at 25th and Sealy. He was one of the first carvings that I saw in town, and I still want to pet him when I see him.

If you're wondering what Spotty is looking at, it's probably this beauty next to him on the other side of the firehouse's lawn:

Here's one more cutie.  He's so realistic (and so realistically sized, unlike the five and six foot tall nuclear versions above), I almost biked right past him. You can find him at 1820 Winnie, unless he has taken off after a cat, which he looks like he might do any minute.

Like art itself, the subject gives you great insight into the artist (or, more likely, into the guy or gal who paid the artist). Like these three angels on the 1700 block of Ball Street. The owner of the house has three little granddaughters...and she's always called them her "little angels."

Go ahead, you can say it: "Awwww."

Before I introduce you to Mermy here, I should share a story of shopping for garden art with my husband several years ago. As he walked through the statuary, he threatened to ask the salesperson if there wasn't anything sexier. This come-hither carving is at 1428 Church, right around the corner from our house, and right up my husband's alley, as they say.

Incidentally, I'm not sure why she's holding a catcher's mitt above her head. But she combines two of the hub's favorite springtime pursuits--boobs and baseball. I'm guessing the artist may have similar interests, because I know the owner of the house, and she's never mentioned either of those topics.

Here are some other chicks that have recently moved into the neighborhood. The Geisha girl on Ball Street isn't quite moved in yet, but I already know she'll be a great addition to the historic district. I'm not sure why the owner chose this topic; if I find out (or if you know), post it in the comments.

This angel is holding a bunny because the owner of the yard used to be a Playboy model. At least that's the story that I've heard. You can go to 17th and Post Office and decide for yourself.
Galveston is an island, so, as you would expect, there are plenty of people who commemorated the island wildlife in their front yards (there may be many who commemorated it in their back yards as well, but HTG is simply not that nosy. Or that brave). Here are some of the ones I spotted:

(Visit these guys yourself at 1609 Post Office, 1610 Sealy, 902 Ball [post a new photo if you'd like...these guys were in process when I saw them], 1618 Church and 12th and Sealy).

These are the ones that I've found so far...but I know that there are more out there! If you spot them, please pass them on...I want to admire them while I can! They are a true monument to the storm, to art, and to the
importance of living in the moment. Enjoy! (And see this final one at 1028 Winnie).

Saturday, March 20, 2010

March Sadness: The Last Guest to Leave the Pity Party

Okay, this is going to be the last one. I promise.

If you haven't already guessed, this is one more blog about the love of my life: my house in Cape May (with apologies to the hub). We got an email last night from the new owner; they said "we love the house."

I'm sure that was supposed to make me feel better. And I'm almost sure that I've uttered the exact same thing to previous owners of homes that I've bought.

And I'm absolutely positive that they wanted to rip my throat out when I said it.

Because no one will love the house like we did. Not even if the house stands for another 100 years (and since the hub and I just rebuilt the foundation, it should).

So, here are some more of my THE LAST ramblings on my baby:

People We Almost Killed. Hey, renovation isn't for sissies. My dad almost died the day we carried this solid wood television cabinet (otherwise known as the beast) up the front stairs of the porch All By Himself. The story was that the guys who were holding the other corners couldn't fit through the door, and Dad ended up carrying the whole thing for about three feet. I'll be glad when flat-screen televisions let us get rid of these widow-makers once and for all.

Our painter almost died when he didn't eat lunch, and passed out in his van from diabetes. Luckily, I had some orange juice handy and we revived him. He didn't give us a break on the paint job. I almost killed him myself four years later when we paid him to power wash the house, and he disappeared. We learned later that he was in jail. "For a long, long time," the sheriff told us. Hey, tack on a couple more years for skipping out with our powerwash money.

To hear our contractor friend Mr. Mark tell it, he almost died the day he was renovating the shed out at the pool. We knew that the floor was rotted, and we knew that something must have lived there at one time. Turns out, one time was just enough for Mr. Mark, who pulled up a floorboard and found a nasty looking possum looking back at him. Mr. Mark was dropped off at an orphanage by his mother when he was about 6, he almost died in a motorcycle accident years ago, and he just had emergency heart surgery in February. But if you ask him, he came closest to death in 2002, when he came face-to-face with those beady little eyes.

I could add the mother-in-law here, for dumping a gallon of paint on one of the only rugs in the house that we had planned on keeping. But I wasn't really mad for long...and the room looked much better with a painted floor, anyway.

Plants I loved. There is nothing like gardening at the beach. Planting a ton of flowers and then leaving for six weeks. Missing the peak season of almost everything. But here are some things I will miss: The several thousand muscari bulbs I planted (seriously...while I certainly am not above gross exaggeration in this blog, it really was about 2,000 bulbs over the years). The peonies, that looked so good in the garden but that were just one more vehicle for ants to come in the house. Hydrangeas, the official flower of Cape May, even if mine never did look awesome. The clematis my neighbor said would never grow, which did anyway.

(One of these statues is not like the others. Which one is you know?)

Ghosts that Walked Among Us (allegedly).  When we first bought the house, and hired our first lawn guy (he would be one of a long string of guys who didn't seem to know what he was doing), he mentioned to us that a woman named Mrs. Undy lived in the house for a long, long time. He also mentioned that he and his brother were completely positive that she was a witch. (The meanness that society extends to single, older women will be another blog for another day).

Anyway, Grassy Eddy and his brother used to dare each other to run up on the house's front porch and touch the front door. And then they screamed like little girls when Mrs. Undy came out to yell.

When we bought the house, there was an old, scratchy, red wool cape in one of the closets (all of the closets were full--we threw out about 25 pairs of shoes). My FIL was sure that it was Mrs. Undy's. I was sure that she wore it to her grandmother's house, through the wolf-ridden hills of southern New Jersey.

Whether she was the inspiration for Little Red Riding Hood or not, Mrs. Undy and I became great friends through the past 10 years. I talked to her frequently when we were working on the house, asking her if she liked it, asking her to finish painting the trim while I was gone for the weekend (she never painted anything, as far as I could tell).

I talked to her again two weeks ago, when we left for the last time. I tried to smell some faint perfume, or see something out of the corner of my eye, but all I detected was the leftovers from Tony's that were smelling up the trash.

Goodbye, Mrs. Undy. I will be really pissed if you show yourself to the new owners!

People that we loved. Without fail, every time we had a big group of people at the house, my husband  would say to me at night "It's nice having the whole house full." And it was.

Okay, I need to stop. Right. Now. This is the last blog you'll see about this house. I've already overstayed my welcome as the last guest at the pity party.

To the new owners, Dave and Renee: I truly hope that you do have as many good memories in the house as we had.

To all our friends and family: we'll see you all at the NEXT house!!!!!!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

You're Feeling Sleepy, Sleepy...

That's what one hour less sleep will do to you.

My husband has long declared that, if he were to run for office (insert here the incredulous sound of your choice...such as HA, or TSK), he would run on a platform of having the sun go down at 9:15 every night. His theory is that the need for watchmakers would help employment numbers, productivity influenced by seasonal affected disorders would go up, and he would be able to play baseball with the boys every night.

My own declaration, were I to oppose him on the ticket (would those debates be cool or what), is that we would keep daylight savings time, but it would happen on a Friday afternoon (or Monday morning, I would have to check with the popularity pollsters on that). The switch back to standard time, of course, would happen on a weekend when we all could enjoy it.

Anyway, all of this is just to say "Remember to spring forward." And remember to stretch first. That springing forward crap can really hurt if you're not warmed up properly.

By the way, the clock pictured above is in the old Ponce de Leon hotel in St. Augustine. It's embedded in the largest piece of marble in the world. They'd have to break the marble to reset it (and fix it). So it's always 10:50 there. On a Saturday. Or at least that's how I think of it.

Happy napping!

Friday, March 5, 2010

A Few of My Favorite Days

They say a house is just a place to live, but a home is a place to love (do they say that? If they don't, they should.)

We didn't live in our Cape May house, but we certainly did love the time that we spent there. Even the time that we worked there (which was pretty much of the time that we spent there).

Here are just a few of my favorite days (and/or nights, and/or weeks):

1. The night we realized that the pipe from the upstairs bathroom came straight down the house and emptied in the crawlspace. And had been emptying there for weeks. My husband didn't just "crawl" out of the "space" when he realized that, he scurried backwards like a that was scurrying away from a bigger, poop-covered spider. You can see the whole story in yesterday's post.

2. The day our pool contractor drove into the fire hydrant next to our driveway and broke not just the hydrant itself, but the water main underneath it. We had owned the house for two weeks and had not yet met any of the neighbors. We could see them all, of course, as they walked outside and watched the water rise with worry (it ended up about halfway up their car tires). Although it would have been convenient to meet them all at once at this impromptu block party, I didn't think that that was the time. So the hub and I fell to the floor, and painted baseboards until the water receded. I darted above the windowsill just once, to take this photo.

3. The day we wanted to plug in a radio to play music while we painted the third floor bedrooms, only to discover that there wasn't a single.solitary.outlet anywhere on the floor. (This, despite the fact that the old owners had multiple lamps in the room as if there were outlets there).

4. The very next day, when I called the home inspector and screamed at him for not mentioning the lack of outlets (there was only one outlet on the whole second floor as well). Highlight of my call: "Even an IDIOT can count to ZERO." (Note: I didn't even call him about the sewage line that opened up underneath the house. I didn't think I could top my earlier line, and I wanted to go out on a high note with him).

5. The day we came downstairs and found Mike's 4'8", 86 year old grandmother standing ON THE KITCHEN COUNTER wiping down the inside of the cabinets. "Does your daughter know you're up there?" I asked as I walked through. "She doesn't need to know," said Grandma. We needed the help, so I continued on my way. I'm not sure how she ever got down again...but I know she wasn't on the countertop when we stopped by the house last weekend.

6. The day/week/month we realized that our friend Birdman had no home renovation skills whatsoever. He couldn't pull out old carpet tacks. He couldn't paint baseboards (unless, by painting, you mean slapping a full gallon of paint onto a two foot section of baseboards so that it all slid off and onto the newly painted floor. He did that pretty well). He couldn't scrape wallpaper (although he determined that in less time than I think it actually took to get the wallpaper scraper out of the toolbox).

7. The day we realized that Birdman was invaluable for providing comic relief as we did all the crappy jobs like pulling out old carpet tacks and painting baseboards and scraping wallpaper. And, subsequently, the relief we felt when we realized that he was somehow able to pick up lunch without hurting himself or anyone else. Everyone has a gift, Birdman, and we are just the kind of people who will exploit yours.

8. The day my dad and my brother drove to Cape May with their farm truck, pulled out all of the horrible old carpeting, and TOOK IT HOME WITH THEM to burn. I am still grateful, and I hope it isn't still smoldering!

9. All the days that friends and family came to help Karen, who painted, and my brother's girlfriend Heather who helped me lay a path around the pool made of broken slate (I am convinced that that was the day that my brother decided he would marry her). My friend Mary Jane, who painted the shutters on the shed, and who bought the rockers for the front porch...and who passed away five years ago from breast cancer. The 140 hours that Mike's mother and grandmother spent scraping wallpaper from the bathroom (full disclosure to the new owners: we just painted over the wallpaper in the kitchen and the downstairs bathroom). Eating dinner in the living room...with Mike's Dad (who could never get enough of Tony's batter dipped fries), Mr. Mark, me and the hub. Speaking of Tony's, we made a sign one weekend that said "Thanks Tony: Corporate Sponsor of this Renovation." We ate a lot of Philly cheesesteaks (fried onions, provolone cheese, and hot peppers, please) in those 18 weeks.

10. The day we finally finished everything and had time to just lay in the pool sipping mai tai's. Oh wait...that never happened.