Sunday, June 22, 2014

Thoughts on Kara Walker's "A Subtlety"

 A Subtlety: Or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant.  Photo from:

Kara Walker has explored the horrors and the raw experiences of racism for decades. She took two of my philosophy classes at the Atlanta College of Art and attended a party at my home that Dar and I planned with Bill Curtis, who continues to be friends with Kara.
Her work has raised questions about my own feelings concerning race. My life has been the result of White privilege, though unquestionably augmented by academic privilege from my days at Sewanee and Tulane onward.
When I attended Savannah High School, integration of the schools began. Teachers fled to private schools or colleges. The quality of public education fell because of the racist feelings of the teachers who left. Only a few were able to gain a better perspective and continue to teach black and white together.
From early on I found racism ugly and absurd. My grandmother told me I had a little of all races in me and not to be prejudiced. That has been my principle ever since, even as I gave my seat on a bus, next to my other grandmother, to a woman who was of mixed race. My other grandmother was not so liberal until her granddaughter married an African-American and gave her a mixed race great grandchild.
We all have some prejudices. Who would deny that? Being gay has exposed me to plenty of bigotry. What disturbs me personally is the thought that my life has been easier because of racism. The only time I did damaging, painful manual labor was a summer job in my teens loading and unloading bottling trucks for Canada Dry. It was exhausting labor; every day I cut myself on broken glass, and the pay was a joke (about a dollar an hour). I knew I would never work like that again, even before I went to college.
Earning a Ph.D. was my real ticket to an easier, fulfilled life. And along the way I tackled some racist taboos. I proudly took a job as the first white person ever to work at the Carnegie Library in Savannah (again the irony of getting a job in a predominantly black work space because I was white). I fought for the cause of preservation of the Carnegie's superb collection of black authors. I got library jobs because I had a master's degree. Every enjoyable job I got from then on was because of advanced degrees.

My point is that I never suffered the hardship or the oppression of those who were the victims of racism. For that matter, I don't think Kara Walker did either. She became almost instantly famous immediately after leaving college and grad school. She has enjoyed prestige and privilege ever since. More than one critic has pointed out the irony of success built on art showing the horrors of racism.

Ours is a planet filled with racism, religious intolerance, and capitalistic privilege at the expense of untold millions of people struggling to stay alive. Few of us have the dedication and empathy of a Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, or the Dalai Lama. Too few of us are willing or able to offer humanity socialism, the only system which cares for humanity as a whole, that provides the basic needs of all rather than the greed of the wealthy. My own life is one of modest hedonism, intellectual luxury, travel, comfort, and friendship, and my goal has been akin to the garden Epicurus built. My struggle is with nothing more than mortality and the attempt to have love in my life. Other than voting liberal, teaching art and humanities, and dabbling in writing, I've done virtually nothing to help mankind or make the planet a happier place for all the beings who live on it. My rep in Congress, by contrast, is John Lewis, who has done more than most. He is a man I greatly admire.

In short, I am an equal opportunity opportunist. The world, in my estimate, could provide everyone the equivalent of what I have. I've never killed or intentionally hurt anyone. My lovers have been Caucasian, Asian, Negro, Polynesian, Native American, male, female, and Zapotec. Vive La Difference! Kara Walker's Sugar Baby is Sweet and Bitter at the same time, and as the article below explains, made in our own image.


Friday, June 20, 2014

Just a Dozen Years Ago

Ah, 2002-- It was a very good year...

(Reprinted from a Born-Again website)

Jan: Spain, Baltimore.
Feb: Tucson, Memphis.
Mar: Chattanooga; Savannah; Seattle.
Apr: San Francisco, Big Sur.
May: Charleston-- Spoleto.
June: Savannah.
July: Provincetown.
Aug: Alaska; Seattle.
Sept. Savannah.
Oct: Asheville. New Orleans.
Nov: Washington, Baltimore; Cape Cod.
Dec: San Antonio, Savannah. Dublin, Ireland.
Mar 2003: Hawaii

We began 2002 in Spain. In Madrid we stayed at the Palace Hotel and we luxuriated in the splendid Alfonso XIII in Seville. We also visited the Alhambra in Granada and were given a tour of the city by one of its nicest citizens.

Later in January we flew to snowy Baltimore to visit Paula and Joe and celebrate Jess' 21st birthday. We visited the wonderful Walters Museum (where Paula works) and saw the Marvelous Matisse collection of the Cone sisters at BMA. We also celebrated the move into Paula and Joe's lovely new home.

In February, we enjoyed a few days in Tucson, staying at the delightful Arizona Inn. From there, we visited Sequaro National Park and Sabino Canyon. The open desert landscapes and mountains gave us fresh air.

In March, Dar visited Eric in Seattle. We also visited Savannah and Daufauskie Island with Starr and Bruce. We had steamed oysters at Teeples and dined at the Pink House. Previously, we spent two weekends in Tennessee, first in Memphis where we saw some great tennis, including matches of Roddick and Blake. Then we went to Chattanooga to visit Dar's Grandmother and family and Weiss House on Lookout Mt. where we had culinary delights.

April in California, we basked above the Pacific in the hot tubs of Esalen. We stayed in a cabin in Pfeiffer State Park and dined at the Sierra Mar restaurant of the Post Ranch Inn. We met Eric in Monterey and saw the amazing aquarium there. Along Highway 1 and in sunny San Francisco, we got tans riding in our convertible. We watched the sunset from the Beach Chalet with Polly and Alan, whose stories livened the evening. Click "Big Sur," above, for a glimpse of our trip.

We began the summer with Spoleto in Charleston, where we heard the clear, lovely voice of Tierney Sutton, and saw John Hurt in Brien Friel's latest play. We also stayed on the Isle of Palms. In June, we went to Tybee with the Killians, followed by a trip to New Orleans where we saw "Chicago," and had a delightful time with KT and Roger. For the 4th of July, we went to Cape Cod, and stayed in P'town at the Land's End Inn. The beach and town were a perfect blend of sun, surf, and seafood.

Alaska in August was amazing. We flew to Seattle to take Holland America's Amsterdam north to Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan and the awesome Hubbard Glacier. For Labor Day we had 4 enjoyable days in Savannah. Then Dar flew to New York where he saw Hairspray on Broadway.

In November in Washington and Baltimore we Visited with Paula and Joe, took in the Walters Museum's collection, saw the wonderful Bonnard show at the Phillips in DC, and attended the CES conference. Gov. Howard Dean was charming when I told him of our civil union in Vermont.

After the election, we took in the antidote to the debacle--a party with and a performance by John Waters. It was a Divine evening, from the cocktails, "sex in the city"s to the banter with the master of sleaze, himself. John gave us an hour-long stage and vaudeville act recounting the high lights of his life of film to a screaming, adoring audience at the Rialto (our favorite theatre.) Then we all were treated to "Female Trouble," from the Divine abuse of the Christmas tree to the shocking end in the electric chair.
Waters, of course, was charming as Dar and I sat and talked with him at the Mumbo Jumbo party about P'town and Baltimore. He was so modest! When we told him about our upcoming visit toHampden neighborhood in Baltimore with Paula and Joe, he said, "You'll love it there. That's where I made 'Pecker." What a sweetheart!

A Ben Franklin Academy graduate served us delicious food and beverages during the party; then Jess, Dar, numerous friends, and I crossed the windy boulevards of downtown Atlanta to the Rialto for the performances. Republicans were reduced to just another excuse for counter-cultural excess! Nixon, Reagan, and the bushes--prods to get us out of our Bourgeoise complacency and make us aware that life is more than an SUV and a gun. More than oil and its byproducts. More than money. More even than Power. Trash is more than pollution and religion is more than self-righteous posturing. Amen. In short, we had an unforgetable night. And next week, we go to celebrate Thanksgiving in Provincetown--Thanks indeed! Thank you Buddha. Thank you Pan. And thank you most of all John Waters for an enchanted evening.

We heard the incomparable Maureen McGovern at the Rialto. We went to Asheville with Pamela and Bob and met up with David Perkins for the Mars Hill Homecoming. The Killians joined us as well. Dar spent a weekend in New Orleans(check out the link to Bourbon Street), where he attended Halloween parties and saw the play Gross Indecency with KT. They also went to church and returned to Cafe Sbiza for a fab dinner.

For T'giving we returned to Cape Cod and Provincetown; then in Dec., to San Antonio for the Southern Assn. of Colleges Conference. 

For Christmas vacation, Savannah, and Dublin, Ireland where we celebrated New Years Eve. 

We flew first class to Hawaii in March 2003

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Passion of the Flowers

Florida (named Passion of the Flowers by Ponce de Leon)

Land of the Seminole, settled 14,000 years ago, land of fantasy with its dream of springs of youth, land where Ponce de Leon was mortally wounded, Florida shrank to half its size when the glaciers melted; it  may shrink by half again as the planet heats.

Hibiscus from the garden
Chez M & J

Nonetheless, this diverse peninsula is ripe for exploration. From crawling swamps and bayous to expanses of the purest quartz sand beaches on earth, the state is a plenitude of nature and culture, including hideous urban sprawl as well as wetlands that home countless birds and reptiles. Here is what we encountered there.

Heron at Venice Beach 
 Alligator in gold and silver at Myakka River State Park

My travels in Florida began in April when I flew to Sarasota. Staying with my ex-wife and her wife in Venice Beach, the latter took me to state parks and  beaches where we watched glorious sunsets, drank wine, ate seafood, observed the flora and fauna, and spent a full week discussing our lives and changing experiences.

Buddha of Sarasota
 Marie Selby Botanical Gardens.

Sunset at Siesta Key Beach

The end of May, I returned with my companion in Music and Philosophy, and with my friend of 22 years who was on her way to perform the wedding of her niece.
This second time was a road trip, covering the entire state from St. Petersburg to Venice Beach, to Miami by way of Alligator Alley, skirting the Everglades. In Miami Beach my good friends from Frankfurt joined us for a taste of South Beach culture and swimming.

South Beach, 

South Beach, Miami

Road trips are about ourselves as much as they are about new territory, exploring the byways of our own and each other's psyches. This trip was exemplary, revealing the strengths and the flaws in our connections with those who are close, exposing otherwise hidden aspects of ourselves. Here are the persons with whom I engaged in the exchange of ideas, time, dreams, disappointments, and expectations-- the flesh and blood of shared travel experiences:

Will: Night Music
Venice Beach

Joce: Sunset, Caspersen Beach

Wolfgang and Sebastian
Purple Penguin Cafe, Miami

Jack, Will 
A La Folie Cafe
Miami Beach

Wedding Toast

Treasure Beach

Starr Tays, Sun Greeting
St. Pete Beach

For the best photographs of the two trips, see:


Plus our Photo-book: