“How long did it take you to finish that painting,” is a question people often ask. They are usually surprised that the time to complete a work is much longer than they had imagined. Perhaps it’s because they think that making art is simply a matter of talent and inspiration, rather than hard work and sweat as well. For example, The Vintners took more than 900 hours to paint, that is, roughly six months. (Nine-hundred hours, by the way, only refers to the days and weeks of actual painting and doesn’t account for several trips driving from Grass Valley to the Napa Valley and back in my beat-up old Datsun pickup– 2 1/2 hours each way– to draw, photograph and interview the 39 principals in the painting. They included growers and vintners, a journalist, two restaurateurs, a professor of viticulture at the University of California and a banker without whose loans, one vintner told me, “all of us would still be unknown here in an obscure valley in California, stomping grapes with our feet.”)
“There is the hidden presence of others in us, even those we have known briefly. We contain them for the rest of our lives.”
Michael Ondaatje— from his novel, Divisadero
My oldest friends in Spain are Toti Romero and her husband, Manolo Blasco; their presence in my life has been anything but brief. Exactly 30 years ago, in 1988, they opened their arms, their home and their hearts to this curious artist from California. During our first afternoon together in Valencia they fed my curiosity about words by introducing me to paella, the fragrant dish of rice, rabbit, green and white beans, saffron, chicken and rosemary and to the word, socarrat, the crusty, burnt rice on the bottom of the paella pan. That evening, Manolo fed more of my curiosity by guiding me through the narrow, noisy streets in the old part of the city, explaining that “old” in Valencian terms refers to the founding of the city by a Roman consul 2,100 years ago. He showed me the Central Market, one of the most beautiful in Europe, and the 500 year-old Silk Exchange with its gargoyles and twisted colums, and the immense Serrano Towers that were part of the medieval fortifications of the city, and the Art Deco Train Station, located directly across the street from the bull ring.
For 80 or 90 years– probably even longer– the jumble of logs in the photographs had been a beautiful oak that lived at the end of our driveway next to the road. This magnificent creature had been the home of countless squirrels, insects and birds, especially ravens and crows, who for some corvid reason, seemed especially attracted to it. It also gave shade and comfort to generations of humans equally– to the good, the bad, the in-between.