Friday, December 31, 2010


The Goddess Fulfaggotra Laura Cerwinske, 2000

The present contains every possible destiny.

Prayerfully, let us ask for 2011, that:

We more deeply understand that forgiveness is a willingness to see from another point of view.

We celebrate the willingness to trust the infinite, unpredictable nature of the universe to shape and move us.

We surround ourselves with others who are similarly allied in building the strength, focus, and responsiveness necessary to fulfilling our vision.

We appreciate vision as an instrument of liberation, understanding that a vision is not a goal; a vision requires conscious action to deliver a conscious outcome in conscious form.

We embrace all that is organic, dynamic, intuitive, meditative, energetic, holographic, and holistic.

We apply that which is linear, analytical, mechanical, orderly, and measurable only in the service of beauty, creativity, nourishment, and alliance.

We acknowledge our ancestors daily, cultivate our gardens, make peace with our mothers, and express our gratitude to Creation with every breath.

We live by Grace.

Love to All,


with acknowledgement to Dianne Collins, creator of QuantumThink® and author of the forthcoming book, Do You Quantum Think? New Thinking That Will Rock Your World. <>

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


The Ladies are Amused by Laura Cerwinske

BOOK: Journey into the Past by STEFAN ZWEIG is a “between the wars” psychological novella that was found among author’s papers after his death. It is now published for the first time in America with an introduction that explicates the agony of Sweig’s cultural alienation.

ARTIST: EMANUELE VISCUSO answers to a whole gallery of Renaissance muses. His fan-like sculptures synthesize the elegance of Brancusi and Fortuny. His trompe l’oeil painting would make the Duke di Montefeltro weep. And then there is all the rest.

INTERVIEW: Be prepared to laugh out loud…and often: FRAN LEBOWITZ on the agony of writing (from the brain, that is, and NOT the fingers – imagine if she took RADICAL WRITING Take a look:

VIDEO: See this documentary on the life of writer/activist GRACE PALEY to gain a vast understanding of a writer/artist’s commitment.

THOUGHTS: On Contradiction
by filmmaker Shekhar Kapur

When we consider a script for a potential film, we look for a story on a plot level, then we look for a story on a psychological level, then we look for a story on a political level, then we look for a story on a mythological level. We need a story on each level. It is not necessary that these stories agree with each other. What is wonderful is, many times, the stories contradict each other. So when I work with Rahman, who’s a great musician, I often tell him, “Don’t follow what the script already says. Find that which is not. Find the truth for yourself, and when you find the truth for yourself, there will be a truth in it. It may contradict the plot, but don’t worry about it.”

Everything’s a contradiction. The universe is a contradiction. And all of us are constantly looking for harmony. Harmony is the notes that Mozart didn’t give you, but somehow the contradiction of his notes suggests harmony. It’s the effect of looking for harmony in the contradiction that exists in a poet’s mind, a contradiction that exists in a storyteller’s mind. A storyteller’s mind is a contradiction of moralities. In a poet’s mind, it is a conflict of words. In the universe’s mind, it’s between day and night. In the mind of a man and a woman, we’re looking constantly at the contradiction between male and female.

The acceptance of contradiction is the telling of the story, not the resolution. The problem with a lot of the storytelling in Hollywood and many films is that we try to resolve the contradiction. Harmony is not resolution. Harmony is the suggestion of a thing that is much larger than resolution. Harmony is the suggestion of something that is embracing and universal and of eternity and of the moment. Resolution is something that is far more limited. It is finite. Harmony is infinite. So storytelling, like all other contradictions in the universe, looks for harmony and infinity in moral resolutions, resolving one, but letting another go, letting another go and creating a question that is important.
- Shekhar Kapur, filmmaker (Bandit Queen, Elizabeth) in a TED presentation
. [Edited]

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


I’ve been involved in publishing for so long that I actually witnessed the decline of hot type. Forty years ago my first job in the field was as a typesetter at small typography studio in New York. Giant-sized computers with complicated keyboards were just supplanting the manual labor of letter-by-letter composition, but even so, typos still had to be sliced out by hand with a razor and corrections pasted with wax into final galleys. For the time, however, this was cutting edge technology. I felt like a pioneer, a path finding participant in the world of publishing evolution.

My typesetting career led to a job as a paste-up artist which led to layout which led to graphic design which led to photo styling, and eventually art directing. Simultaneously, I was working as a freelance writer which led to a long career as an author, editor, photo editor, and book packager. Now, I’m about to launch my own publishing list (Blue Hair Lady Publishing), write and illustrate a novella, and find a new agent while continuing to teach my online course Radical Writing. In other words, I’m path finding in a new publishing landscape…again. What I recognize this time, however, is that the present change in technology is merely the tip of the evolutionary iceberg. With e-books, blogs and social networking, creativity and information-sharing inhabit an entirely new cosmos, for, along with the vast transformation of technology is sea change of values. Books, once the literary prize of the educated elite, are no longer the “object” of the long process of intense creative labor. Rather, they are now regarded in much of the commercial world as the premium, the give-away, the prize that comes along with (that crass word) “the brand.”

After much investigation and trial, I’ve now come to believe that neither established publishers, editors, nor agents and not even the new world marketing gurus really know where word-and-picture media are headed. Certainly, the printed word will not entirely vanish. But it’s place in the world – and publishing’s place within that place – have yet to be determined.

At a writers conference I recently attended in NYC, a panel of literary agents explained the types of material their agencies were receptive to. Professionals though they were, the panel members looked like deer caught in the headlights. It became clear to me that given the vast changes in the publishing game, even they didn’t know what truthfully to advise their audience of aspiring authors. I came away feeling lucky that, as an artist and writer, I’m no stranger to “making up the process as I go along.” This, I realized, is exactly what is required to enter the publishing arena today.

A following or “platform” is now the product. Publishers and agents look for name/product recognition as much as for talent or idea. Success in publishing (and especially self-publishing) now requires great competence and involvement in internet marketing and self-promotion. Publishing houses traditionally give books no longer than six weeks of marketing focus (the time leading up to and immediately following the publication date). Now, before, during, and after that period, the author is expected to promote, promote, promote. Publishing has become more than ever an endeavor of personal responsibility.

My friend, the cookbook author Grace Young, has published three beautiful books with Simon & Schuster over the last ten years. (The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen, the Breath of a Wok, Stir-frying to the Sky’s Edge). Leading up to last spring’s publication of Sky’s Edge, her editor and publicist had left their positions. On the last day of her book tour, she received a Tweet that the company’s publisher had been outsed. Since then she has also lost her replacement editor. Grace’s experience makes the message pretty clear – if you want to get your book out into the world, the development and promotional heavy lifting now falls to you.

I’ve been observing the author Julie Klam on Twitter as she stirs the pot for her just-released book on rescue dogs, You Had Me At Woof. She and her coterie of writer friends and girl friends have been putting out the word all over the social media for weeks and months. They made a tongue-in-cheek “training” video for YouTube exposure, cheered on Julie’s book signing appearances in enthusiastic tweets, and hailed her every mention in print through various networks. The constant mention and sight of Julie’s name made me want to rescue another dog, have lunch with all the girlfriends, talk until dusk, and buy the book! The personal promotional efforts make me feel not simply like I know Julie Klam, but that we’re BFFs.

Like every passionate idea brought to fruition, we must still conceive, believe, and apply heart, soul, creativity, and talent. To achieve commercial success in publishing, we must also now apply marketing skill, analytical skill, social skills, and a lot of perseverance.


What’s most difficult for people to grasp about electronic publishing is that e-books are NOT books. The book designer Joel Friedlander consistently illuminates his learning about e-publishing, and I highly recommend his website and blog, This is how he describes the distinctions print and electronic books:

E-books have no pages. Pages, the two sides of the leaves of paper that make up the book, are intrinsic to printed books. Although e-books imitate “pages” it’s just for our convenience. There is no reason an entire novel in e-book form couldn’t be written on one “page” or on thousands of bits of displayed text within a programmed environment.
E-books also have no spreads. Although it seems like I’m repeating myself, this is the heart of the book. When the sheaves of papyrus or linen or wood pulp paper are bound they naturally create two (or more) side-by-side pages, or a spread. What makes a book is the binding, so the spread is really the basic unit of the book, not the page.
Every word in an e-book is equidistant from every other word in the e-book. Any location in the e-book can be connected instantly to any other location in the text through hyperlinks.
The text of an e-book is searchable and subject to computer analysis. Just by entering a search term and hitting the Return key, you can highlight thousands of occurrences of the term throughout the entire text. Instantly.
There is no need in an e-book for text to be linear. An e-book, like almost all text-delivery systems, presents text in orderly rows of type on discrete, sequential pages, but this has nothing to do with the form of the e-book and everything to do with habits and expectations. We are used to reading text that way, so designers have created a model of the book on the screen. With just a little more work they could and do create models that have no debt to the book, where text is free-form, or timed to appear at intervals, or integrated with other media, or reading in circles if they bloody well want it to.
The form, size and typography of the e-book are adjusted by the devices on which they are presented. I have hanging over my desk a page from a religious text printed in Paris in 1495 by a printer named Ulrich Gering, and I have no doubt that Ulrich himself set up this page and printed it on his pull-lever press. With many e-books, the user can change the typeface, the typesize and other attributes. The e-reader itself will create the format for the pages and how they are displayed.


For artists and writers particularly, the promise of self-publishing is infinite. For people like me with experience in all facets of the field, this is the moment we’ve been waiting for -- books over which we have design, production, and promotional power. For artists and writers in general, self-publishing provides the means to bring a book idea into material fruitionby ourselves. A great satisfaction.

A great example of a purely self-published project is a delightful book I learned about on the internet that was produced by a photographer/designer/ illustrator team in the UK, Gerry King and Louise Burston, who formed a company called Zero Lubin to produce and market their art and books. Gerry King’s Lubin Tales draws us in “a world of small town debauchery and intercontinental dubious intent.” Take a look at and Everything about their effort is distinctive, edgy, whimsical, and highly professional. And they are very responsive to personal inquiry.

In regard to self-publishing through a POD (print-on-demand) company, I advise that you be certain you are retaining rights to your material. Do your research or contact a literary attorney (I can recommend an excellent one). Here’s an excellent summary of rights licensing and a list of helpful resources:

Once you’ve published, work hard at those Facebook, Twitter, other social network connections, and keep your blog current. All this takes time, but it is now The Work. I’ve yet to discover how much effective traffic these media genuinely generate, but I continue under the belief that any connection could provide the link to the next big step. You just never know.

The following article provides some insight as to how Facebook functions – it’s interesting, and worth reading, but the actual method it describes is way too dense for me. Instead, I put out, and put out, and put out as intelligently and pervasively and discriminatingly as I can, and then I pray for the best.

Remember also to investigate avenues of free mention (online publications in your field) and advertising. I started with Google Adwords and with classifieds in my fields’ association media.

In conclusion, this is what I’ve learned so far about publishing today and in the near future: The internet has given us the power to grow exponentially, to function simultaneously and democratically (so far), to generate limitless connection. And, as in life and art and nature, it welcomes serendipity. The internet is a malleable medium, and for those who use it creatively, the future is now and it’s in our hands.

Friday, October 8, 2010


Aside from the equatorial-like heat and humidity, my cousin’s garden wedding was glorious. The grounds of the Italian Renaissance-style tropical estate were candlelit, and the air redolent with jasmine. A procession of bagpipers was followed up the aisle by a rabbi -- a tanned, suburban-looking fellow in suit and tie who, I quickly decided, surely drove a Cadillac Escalade and had three kids and ex-wife in Boca Raton. Astonishing, I thought, in a flash of self-awareness, the speed with which I could go from exalting in beauty to swimming in judgment.

As the guests rose to their feet in anticipation of the bride, I glimpsed behind the rabbi a disturbance of black hair shot with silver and resting atop a head resembling the noble bust of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. Below the curling lips of this Aurelius -- the priest -- was chiseled a chin that surmounted the folds of a robe, lovely and soft and as black as the silver-shot hair. When the face of Aurelius lifted from its downward cast, a pair of glinting, black-marble eyes revealed an expression of bemusement. This was James Dean in a collar, I thought, or Marcello Mastroianni on a mission from God. Well before the bride made her way to the hupa, I had mentally rearranged the place cards on the banquet tables.

I have no idea who sat to my left during that bridal dinner, but on my right was Father Eric (“Please, just call me Eric”). It took me no time to discover that Eric belonged to the Reform Catholic Church (they allowed sex and female ordination), that he was from Germany and spoke seven languages, had not become a priest until after period of adventure and travel during which he’d ridden across Morocco on a motorcycle and, like me, had lived on an Israeli kibbutz.

Sitting on the other side of Eric was the rabbi and his girlfriend. I attempted to make small talk with her since the rabbi hadn’t introduced her to anyone at the table or made any effort to include her in conversation. I didn’t like this lack of consideration. No wonder the ex-wife I imagined him to have had divorced him. My judgments were growing as tall as the wedding cake.

By the time the reception ended, I had secured a promise from Eric to help me with a book I was writing. My cousin’s father had been watching me throughout the evening. He came up beside me as I waved Eric off in his BMW. “You’re going to hell,” he whispered.

The book I was writing was called, In a Spiritual Style: The Home as Sanctuary. It opens with an essay on “The Evolution of Sacred Design” and Eric was expert. He’d come to my house in the afternoons or evenings and we’d sip wine and talk. During that time I was also working on a series of sculptures made from the beautifully contoured husks of royal palms and bamboo. Gilded, lacquered, and mounted, they resembled goddess gowns or papal robes. “Ah, very Julius II” (the outrageous pontiff of the High Renaissance), admired Eric. A man who appreciates fashion, I swooned.

Naturally, I suspected Eric could be gay, but that certainly wasn’t going to restrict my imagination's momentum. God had put him in my life, right there at my cousin’s wedding, and seated me next to him. And Eric’s attributes were manifold: he was cultured, European, well-traveled, superbly educated and possessed of a voluptuous androgyny. His penetrating gaze and aqualine nose could have been sculpted on a Roman coin. Bless my wildly beating heart, this holy renegade probably rode horses. He was divine

My tastes have always been far more ecumenical than those of my distinctly conventional family. Surveying the wedding reception, I had come to the happy realization that this event -- my cousin's bi-worshipful ceremony with its Orthodox parents, reform rabbi, bagpipes, and a German priest -- had all but vindicated me. So with very little reservation I invited Eric to Passover at my mother's house. Traffic delayed him, and we were already seated at the seder table when he arrived. My cousin's father mouthed to me, "You're going to hell." One of Eric's seven languages, it turned out, was Hebrew -- he actually read the prayers while everyone else followed the transliterations . Having lived in Israel, he also knew the words to all the songs. My mother was unnerved, my father oblivious, and my cousins confused.

Eric was soon to be ordained a bishop. His 90-year-old mother who had never before left Germany would fly in for the ceremony, and the members of the Reform Catholic congregation would prepare a feast. A female bishop performed the service. Eric, in his bishop’s robes, holding aloft the chalice, intoning in Latin, his eyes steely with purpose, was nothing less than regal,

I celebrated my birthday that year at the home of a friend, a fabulous cook whose smoked salmon was so delectable it virtually flew off the laden table. While Eric, who had arrived in the company of a young Filipino, chatted away with my friends, I observed him from across the room. Although his wrist rested on his hip in an arabesque of relaxation, his black eyes expressed a penetrating absolutism. It occurred to me that without the softening effects of spiritual devotion, he would have made an excellent Fascist. I also noticed that not once during the evening did he ever introduce his Filipino friend to anyone or include him in a conversation. The poor soul was left to linger over the smoked salmon and wander the room alone. Recollections of the rabbi abruptly emerged.

I didn’t think about Eric again for quite some time after that, not until a friend mentioned that she needed a priest to officiate at her wedding, and I referred her to him. “He was wonderful!” she later gushed. A year after that, she announced that she would be asking Eric to perform her newborn son’s baptism. I asked her to convey to him my love.

“My God, what did you do to him?” my friend asked when we met a few weeks later. “When I mentioned your name, he looked startled… and then his eyes filled up with tears.”

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Laura Puts, words, ideas: READING THE CRYSTAL BALL

Laura Puts, words, ideas: READING THE CRYSTAL BALL


Several years ago, during a not-uncommon quest for motivational clarity, I took a terrific course called QuantumThink given by the visionaries Dianne Collins and Alan Collins. Dianne's process and Alan's coaching gave me precisely the support and focus I needed to propel me into effective action. In a recent email from them, they shared

7 Questions to Get Your Big Idea Clear which is the basis for their upcoming QuantumThink Mastery Intensive Series. Their advice is so spot-on and effective, I wanted to share it:

1. What is the ONE big idea you are passionate about getting into action?

2. What is the INTENT of your idea? How does it serve others?

3. Who is your AUDIENCE or market? What specific groups would appreciate, purchase, use and enjoy your big idea?

4. What is the primary factor you think/feel/believe has stopped, slowed, or thus far PREVENTED your idea from manifesting?

5. What are “the FRUITS” for you, once your idea is in action?

6. When your idea is in action, what will you be doing every day as your new LIFESTYLE routine?

7. What new IDENTITY would need to emerge in you, in how you relate to yourself—to manifest, maintain, and sustain the success of your idea in action?

Of course these questions are perfect material for Radical Writing, both for people who have taken my course and already know how to apply the process to responding as well as for people who are would want to learn the magic of effortless self-expression. The next session for Radical Writing: the 15- minute-a-day Online Course in Uninhibited Self-Exploration begins this coming Monday, September 6th. (Register at: The course requires no previous writing experience or any expertise whatsoever.

Dianne and Alan's QuantumThink Mastery Intensive – Idea Into Action Course starts Monday, September 27th via teleconference. For information contact: or if you prefer, call him directly at (305) 354-8141.

Friday, August 27, 2010


THE CAMPBELL SOUP KIDS were already a well-loved phenomenon in 1905 by the time Campbell Soup Company of Canada opened. The artist Grace Gebbie Wiederseim Drayton was hired to create the adorable chubby-faced boy and girl characters. They immediately became so famous as spokes-kids for the international soup company, their images are updated and used still today. The artist Barry Zaid remembers coming across a picture of the Soup Girl in his mother's photo albums from the 1920s. She had been cut out from the label of a can -- smiling, healthy, and happy. Perfectly energetic, charming, and delightful, her cheeks polished like apples, he immediately fell in love with her.

Fast forward to 2010 and Barry is walking into Marshalls where, right at the front door, he comes across a table full of Campbell Soup Girl cookies jars, all bursting with happiness to greet him. AND, they were only $12.99. Of course he had to have one.

Miss Campbells Soup was so cheerful and welcoming that Barry placed her on the middle of his stove top (he doesn't cook). She was the only object with red detailing in a kitchen filled with only blue-and-white objects. In other words, she was a stand out.

After a life of prominence at center stage in Barry kitchen, Miss Campbells Soup came to be emblematic of welcome, holding up her big red tomato in one hand. Then, one portentous Friday, the exterminator appeared. In preparation for having his apartment "tented", Barry had to face his past and clean out the entire kitchen. When his cat, Cheetah, spied an empty shelf, she lept into the air to reach it and, in the process, knocked over a can of Campbells Cream of Poblano Pepper Soup which came crashing down on poor Miss Campbells Soup's chef hat, smashing her to pieces.

The ray of sunshine behind this drear cloud is that her face remained unmarred and in tact. Barry pledges that she will resurrect in the form of some broken china object d'art.

Until then, Miss Campbell's Soup Girl, R.I.P.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Moving, as we are, from the fossil age into the solar age, everything around us seems subject to tumult. We witness nearly daily the implosions of our institutions and the erosion of our perceived stability. Ours is a balancing act of desires for both change and equilibrium within a world in constant flux, and balance requires fierce focus. Upon what…? We can and must learn from the past, but we can only be inspired by the future –i.e. a vision that combines elements of past and present to create wholly new ideas, perspectives, sensations, and approaches. Such is the everyday work of artists.

Art is witness and manifestation both. Its power is born of the marriage of extremes. Reinvention is the artist’s métier; creativity is our way of functioning. We are practiced at shaping new form out of fragments, of drawing new reality out of pure imagination. We strip, edit, combine, reduce, enlarge, shape, and reshape. We rely on instinct as much, if not more, than on critical, analytical, or linear processes. We naturally think outside the box because most of the time we’re not even aware of the box. We value fluidity over order, possibility over authority. We are inherently collaborative, and we recognize change as opportunity. Our passion is transformation. Our commitment is to “see anew.” In this way, art is a spiritual undertaking, for as artists, we are constantly remaking Creation.

Anything born of creativity is a devotion. In making art, in surrendering reliance on intellect and habits of ego, we transform ourselves and, thereby, as quantum physics tells us, ALL Creation. The spiritual aspects of art take us beyond historical, geographical, and cultural boundaries. They reveal the illusion of catastrophe and dispel the paralysis of fear.

In his article, “Desperately Painting the Plague,” (The New York Times, July 29, 2005. p. B25) Holland Carter wrote, “Pandemics of one kind or another have always terrorized human history. And where science has been helpless and politics mute, religion and art have responded…. Christian ‘high art’, when considered as devotional icons rather than as old master monuments, are viewed from an existential rather than a doctrinal or sociopolitical perspective; through the eyes of a believer for whom a picture of the Virgin is a moral lesson and an emotional encounter, a culture’s cry of pain, before it is a Tiepolo or a Tintoretto. …. the focus is not on the comparative quality of objects or styles, but on intangible elements that science tends to be shy of: how art provokes emotion and conveys belief, and how a certain kind of art, at a certain time, gave certain people who felt the earth had been swept away beneath them a place to stand.”

Taped to my computer is the following quote from A Course in Miracles (Lesson 70): “My salvation comes from me. Nothing outside of me can hold me back. Within me is the world’s salvation and my own.” With that reminder, I consistently reset my ragged inner compass, even as I go in search of my savage self, the fearless Mother/warrior needed to look straight through the ego to the beauty/peace/security inside. Fierce focus and a savage self. Yes, these are as much the artist’s instrument as contemplation, study, and devotion. And without a savage self, the artist cannot surrender the inappropriate or outmoded images endlessly spewed by that ubiquitous constellation of family, religion, and culture.

The artist’s stare is a metaphysical tool, for pure observation is transformation’s fuel. Quantum physics speaks of the effect at an energetic level of the act of observation on the object of observation. Once the observation is tainted with judgment, sentiment, or opinion, the evolution is stymied.

Art is the illustrated story of our humanity, and we are that story’s creators.. Let the nation turn to its most effective illuminators to make our aspirations recognizable. Artists are practiced at creating and deciphering; we are at ease in right-brained or metaphysical states of mind (from which visionary thinking emanates). We understand how fiction, not fact, is the most powerful agent of transformation.

Science, logic, and linear or left-brained pursuits have their value in the objective weighing of fact and detail. They serve best when put to use in service of the imagination, for no calculation surpasses in power or effectiveness supremely articulated passion.

Lasting change occurs not in a static environment or by varying a theme, but as a result of challenging our behaviors and perceptions to recognize another way of being. Faced daily with reports of our perpetual and ubiquitous crises, I wait with ever growing impatience for this country’s national call for artists. Though our president was elected on a platform of promised change, the imperative for innovation seems buried under our campaign of resurrection through repair. When, I wonder every day, will we ever put our faith (and money, energy, and determination,) into the skilled and blessed hands of our visionaries?

Monday, August 9, 2010


The painting, "Solar Flare" is by the artist Judith Hoch, known as Juju. She reports: Solar red hot love that burns, consumes and turns you to dust! The new cycle started on August 3 and 4 and produced large storms in the magnetosphere and beautiful auroras. Will the maximum in 2013 herald the beginning of the "Solar" age of power and energy from the SUN ? Or will the amount of coronal mass "injected" into the magnetosphere down the grid and take everyone off internet, phone, etc for six months or so leading to mass extinction and return to foraging?

Saturday, August 7, 2010



see Keith Gessen’s article “Stuck” in the August 2nd issue of The New Yorker

If you think traffic in Miami, New York, Paris, Mexico, and L.A. is bad, you haven’t tried to drive in Moscow, where the number of cars increased six-fold between 1991 and 2009. The city’s driving conditions bring to mind two pieces of 20th century literature (a time before things got really bad): “Highway of the South, “ a 1964 story by Julio Cortazar that describes how people returning to Paris from a long weekend accommodate themselves to a massive traffic jam by eventually forgetting that they were ever going anywhere. A Brezhnev-era novella by Vladiir Sorokin called “The Queue” has people waiting to buy something (not even they know what any longer) in a line so long and complex, that they begin to live in it.

“No city has ever constructed itself out of congestion. It’s impossible,” says transportation expert Cukan Vuchic of the University of Pennsylvania. In Moscow, post-Soviet development exploded as the population swelled with refugees from rural Russia, the Central Asian states, and Ukraine escaping poverty and from the Caucasus escaping the war. All of them wanted cars. The city fathers, believing that “planning was for Socialists” embraced a no-planning posture and figured, under capitalism, the market would take care of everything. At first, “Moscow filled up with kiosks and flimsy freestanding grocery stores, and little old ladies selling socks. Eventually, these were replaced by office buildings and megastores and even luxury condominiums; the spaces once reserved for new roads or metro stations were given over to construction…. The first great post-Soviet fortune, after all, was made not from oil or gas or nickel. That came later. It was made when Boris Beresovsky, a mathematician and game theorist, started selling cars.”

In the August 2nd issue of The New Yorker, writer Keith Gessen’s article “Stuck” describes the socio/political and economic forces that have brought Moscow to the brink of transportational collapse. He quotes Mikhail Blinkin, a traffic expert and classic dissident (the Saharov of traffic) who spent nearly twenty years at two Soviet research institutes devoted to “urban planning” and in 1990 started a private think tank on traffic: “Eventually, Moscow will simply cease to function as a city…. Some people will live in one neighborhood, and others will live in a different neighborhood, and that will be fine, except they won’t be able to get from one neighborhood to the other.” Blinkin sees Moscow’s traffic and parking troubles as, “a symbol of the city’s general lack of legal and planning culture.”

There are three main factors that determine a city’s traffic, explains Yukio Hatoyama, a traffic engineer who teaches at Moscow State University (and the son of the former prime minister of Japan): 1) Driver behavior – Do drivers care if they enter an intersection before a light turns red and there’s a chance they’ll get stuck and create gridlock? 2) The organization of the roads – radial or gridded – and how well that organization is maintained; 3) The social system, as it is reflected on the roads—are there different rules for different drivers (i.e. do the elite get a free pass to put on sirens and charge through)? Hatoyama remarks that the other place that functions in Moscow’s feudal way is China.

In gridded cities, like New York, there are two tiers: a street tier, on which pedestrians are primary and cars secondary; and a freeway tier, where cars rule and there are no pedestrians at all, Moscow has a radial system that, unlike Washington DC’s, for example, simply doesn’t work. Moscow’s (three) rings are interrupted by drivers pulling on and off from side roads to outlet malls, making the beltways into wider thoroughfares-cum-parking lots (there are some streets in the city center as wide as five lanes in each direction and still perpetually clogged).

Parking in Moscow is no less problematic than traffic. Cars are parked everywhere – from roads to sidewalks, the parking authority is corrupt, and enforcement of existing laws is lax. “Try parking on the sidewalk in Munich or Boston.” says Cukan Vuchic. He recalls how, years ago, “You would go to Salzburg to look a the Mozart statue, but you couldn’t see it, because Salzburg was a big parking lot. The Austrians have since take care of the problem with zoning, signage, and enforcement.”

Over the last few years, Moscow drivers have become one of the city’s most active social groups, Keith Gessen tells us. They have organizied to eliminate the corrupt meter maids and are lobbying for more roads. “Car owner” is the one social category that has actually been created in Russia in the past twenty years, as opposed to all the social categories that have been destroyed. “Perhaps this is the emergence, finally, of a propertied, stockholding – and frustrated, selfish, neurotic – middle class.”

Saturday, July 31, 2010


All week I'd been anticipating seeing the preview of the Purvis Young retrospective on Thrusday at the Miami Art Museum. Purvis Young (who died in April at the age of 69) was an urban expressionist painter who was born and lived in Miami's Overtown, the black neighborhood that was demolished along with its music/art/and social nexus in the 1970s when the I-95 expressway was erected downtown. Young stayed on, filling his warehouse/studio with thousands of paintings on cardboard, plywood, and all kinds of found materials. He educated himself through library books, NPR, and PBS and was markedly affected by and involved in the mid-century civil rights movement. An evanescence pervades his work. Its gentle surrealism is far more satisfying than Marc Chagall's. Within the relentless, vivid kinetecism of his surfaces lies a constant tranquillity. The fluid linearity of his figures often resembles the Lascaux-like markings of Picasso's "picador" series. The silhouettes of pregnant women and construction cranes are equally fluid. Every inch of his paintings is animated with his passion for paint, devotion to the the brush, and love of seeing. By the time of his death, his paintings had been acquired by museums and collectors all over the world.

The exhibit itself had, sadly, only about eight works. Among those closely inspecting the pictures was a handsome black woman with two teenage boys. When a guard rushed over to admonish them for touching the work, the woman replied, "Lady, these pictures have been sitting in my backyard for 35 years. I'm Purvis's wife and these are his grandsons, and we worked with him on the frames of every one of them. Don't tell me not to touch them." Her name was Eddye Mae, but, as she explained to me, Purvis called her Betty. He called everyone by a nickname. The boys, Dquon, 17, and Devante, 14, were as long, tall, and beautifully molded as the figures in Purvis's paintings. While I talked with them, a vulture flew by -- a blonde Broward woman handing out glossy business cards and hawking her collection of Purvis Young's art. Hard to think that she and Eddye Mae occupied the same planet, let along floor space. Eddye Mae told me she was rather "phobic" of people these days as we watched the harpie work the room.

A documentary film on Purvis's life and work was screened downstairs -- it showed him in civil rights footage, during the demolition of Overtown, with his famous sidewalk wall of pictures erected during the 70s, interviews with collectors, friends, family, neighbors, and, most of all, with Purvis. He was a monumental man -- big, genial, stubborn, obsessed. I thought about what a joy and agony it must have been for Eddye Mae to love and put up with such man for 35 years and that she, probably, deserved at least as much a tribute as this show.

After the film (which is a terrifically made documentary but two first-time filmmakers whose names I wish I could remember), the crowd dispersed into groups of loud reminiscence and acclaim. Clustered among them were other members of Purvis's family -- children, grandchildren, even a few-week-old great-grandbaby in a carrier. Outside the harpie was again hawking her collection amidst the smokers.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


For many years, I worked as a figure model for artists. The painting, on the right, entitled Half of Everything is Ours, is by the artist and anthropologist Judith Hoch who uses the name JuJu. It was created in the 1990s and is shown, today, in Judith's studio in Wainui Bay, New Zealand next to a double self-portrait and the New York Times pronouncement we've all been waiting for.

Friday, July 16, 2010



....and BUTTONS and BOWS

We are born from seed and so is beauty. From the time the first seeds were saved, not for planting, but to be strung together for adornment and protection, their dormant life brought forth the art of jewelry. From seeds came beads, and from beads followed the stones and shards and fossils, the teeth and bone and shells and feathers that, sewn together, were recognizable in pattern and form as signifiers of power.

Humans donned jewelry long before clothing. Necklaces, bracelets, finger and toe rings, earrings, medals, tiaras, and crowns served, first, to attract the opposite sex and, later, as symbolic shields for the wearers. Emblems of mystical, political, and medicinal authority, early jewelry was imbued with the power of blessings, beauty, and the safeguarding of life.

In the baskets of beads are the seeds of the peony vine, which, in the Lukumi religion, are used in ceremonies invoking the god Shango for help in decision making. The story (or one of several) relates that a terrific argument between seeds as to which color they should be, red or black, became so noisy that Shango had to come forth to mediate. “Enough,” he said, and imprisoned the seeds inside a gourd and shook them all together. “Now you are both colors,” he declared. The maracas are shaken and necklaces of these seeds are worn to bring forth Shango’s wisdom and assistance.

Peony vine seeds likes these in the photo grew wild around the house I grew up in Miami. I remember being told never to put them in my mouth, that they were poisonous, which, actually, they’re not. Seeing them causes me to remember the rattling of their vines within the still-wild landscape of my youth.

The Goddess Fulfaggotra, the second image, has taken her seeds and beads to the limit. She surveys Miracle Mile, the grand boulevard of Coral Gables, which I also grew up exploring. Her hauteur and immodesty are of one who has no doubt of the power of her jewelry.

For a glimpse of the most beautiful of nature’s adornments, take a look at Hans Silvester’s photos/video of the people of Ethiopia’s Omo River Valley. It will take your breath away:

Friday, July 9, 2010



Even while the era of Tiffany windows is long gone, the hungry eye can still find tasty morsels on Miracle Mile where the poetry of the fabulous lives on.