Wednesday, January 5, 2011

the geographic and historic mix grows all the richer

On Christmas day I flew to Tampa to visit the blues/rock musician and funked-out-elegant clothing designer Judy Tampa ( and her ex-husband with whom she lives, the Mack Truck scion David Hall. We’ve all known each other since art school at the University of South Florida in the late 1960s and various subsequent episodes in San Francisco, Miami, and New York. Judy sings with her band Bunko Squad and their first CD, "Tainted" is killer.

In 1973, Judy and I “received Knowledge” from Guru Maharaji, known then as “The 16-year-old Guru” and “Lord of the Universe.” He dazzled my artist/dancer/writer/soul-starved wanderer self (contrary to every intellectual Jewish fiber of my being). Today I am still an artist/writer/teacher, but my self is no longer soul starved, and Maharaji, now known as Prem Rawat, is still dazzling me. (

At Judy and David’s Christmas party I ran into (with champagne in hand) their lifelong friend the juggler/filmmaker/art historian Stuart Lippe who I met in 1967 on the FSU art program in Florence, Italy and who I’d not seen since. We delved into a psychedelically cluttered reminiscence that included Stuart’s mention of the Rubenesque and brilliant academic Helen Hennessey with whom he had recently become reacquainted. I remembered her as my roommate and frequent photography model at USF after our return from Florence.

The next day Judy Tampa and I drove to St. Petersburg to visit Fred Tirabassi, owner of the legendary eatery Kopper Kitchen. Fred and I had known each other since 1973 when he was the head of Maharaji’s Miami ashram. Judy and I followed him down a yellow brick path on a tour of the 1920s Spanish Mediterranean house he’d remodeled. Once uninhabitable, it is Fred’s homage to the casual beauty of Old Florida.

For New Year’s my friend and boss the architect Bernard Zyscovich ( held a dinner for a few friends including his partner, architect Suria Yaffar (native of El Salvador), Vlad and Ludmilla Wasserstein (natives of Russia), Camille and Ron Sppmno (who grew up in St. Petersburg and whose brother turns out to be a long time friend of Fred Tirabassi), Pam Blum (a South African-born Israeli and my dearest friend from the kibbutz I lived on in 1968) who is the mother of Maayan Blum who is married to Joe Clark (an Israeli Cherokee) who works for Zyscovich, Inc.

Yes, a glorious tangle. And the holiday is not yet over. After New Year’s my dear, sartorially superb octogenarian friend Bob Watters, known for his generosity – and popularity -- as “the rock star of AA,” held a birthday luncheon for the octogenarian stud and furniture maker/artist Les Cizek and his wife, the renegade belle of Mississippi whose memoir is to be published this summer, Norma Watkins. Joining us was architect Suzanne Martinson, for whom Zyscovich partner Suria Yaffa used to work. Suzanne’s former husband, the architectural photographer Steven Brooke (, and I produced the first architecture and design books on Miami (, many of which included the work of Bernard Zyscovich. Suzanne Martinson met Bob Watters through me, I met Bob through Norma Watkins, and Norma and I met through a friend of Fred Tirabassi’s.

I regard this tangle of place and time, these unexpected collisions that re-unite and re-ignite former and present selves, to be the art of living. Out of it I am learning to transform the image I am too often shocked to find in the mirror (lower lighting, ever lower lighting, please) into the brave, gregarious girl I remember. This occurs as I experience myself more and more from the inside out: When I look into Pam’s eyes/mouth/face, I am 19-years-old again and ready to climb the peach trees, prune the plum trees, and take on whatever was next in our uncharted lives at that unique moment of hope for Israel. With Judy Tampa I am the languid bohemian, lounging at the lake-house-in-the-orange-groves just as I am the brittle, exhausted twenty-three year-old, screaming her primal brains out in a freezing cold New York apartment. The primal therapist led us to Maharaji. With Fred I am the girl sitting in a tree behind the ashram, dazzled by the height of the sprawling banyan, the intensity of Fred’s devotion, and our novitiate spiritual grandiosity. When I am with Bernard, we are still pioneers.

“If you want to know your destiny, look around at your friends,” says my godfather, the ever wise Oba Ernesto Pichardo. Likewise with self-regard: in whose eyes do you choose to see yourself? I’ve been looking into Maharaji’s eyes for 38 years as he has been looking back into mine.

Today, I had a meeting with prospective editorial clients whom I had never met before -- Benny Mizrahi (a third generation Israeli) and Farouk Gongee (a native of Lebanon) -- who want to write a book together on Maharaji. Farouk was among Maharaji’s first devotees in America and had been sent to Beirut to propagate Knowledge. He had preceded Fred Tirabassi as director of the early Miami ashram.