With Malice Towards All…

… And Compassion For None (unless they are just like us).

The inanities and misinformation that inundate us from Washington D.C. about the immigration of foreigners into freedom’s land and bravery’s home is making all of us sick.

Unless we are the offspring of the indigenous peoples who inhabited this continent before the Europeans showed up, we’re all descendants of foreigners. So let’s take a moment to reflect on words from an anonymous writer in a community newspaper in Barcelona, as quoted by the Uruguayan writer, Eduardo Galeano, in Hunter of Stories, the last of his incomparable books:

Foreigner:

Your god is Jewish, your music is African, your car is Japanese, your pizza is Italian, your gas is Algerian, your coffee is Brazilian, your democracy is Greek, your numbers are Arabic, your letters are Latin.

I am your neighbor. And you call me a foreigner?

 

Dark nights. Darker days.

In worlds older, wiser and saner than the ones we live in, our ancestors marked their days according to the angle of the light of the sun. Light that for a time blazed with great intensity and warmth, making wheat and barley, apples and corn grow, gradually seemed to wither. After the harvest, shadows lengthened, flocks of birds flew away to the south, nights grew longer and colder. The sun appeared less and less above the horizon and on one day it seemed to shrivel and its light almost disappeared.

That time of year, which we call the Winter Solstice, often became a period of withdrawal and introspection, of quiet and thought and reflection. When I was in Iceland, I was told that, to this day, many country folk in the North of Europe stay in their homes as much as possible during the end of December and the beginning of January and avoid venturing out of doors. “Why?” I asked.

“Because there are sinister forces out there, the Spirits of Winter. Perhaps they’re not malevolent, but it’s not a good idea to risk encountering them. Gradually, when light returns in the warming days of springtime, they will leave our lowland pastures and valleys and retreat back into the wilds of the mountains where they came from. But in Autumn, when cold winds and snows return and nights grow long, the spirits come back as well. Winter is their time, not ours, so you have to be careful.”

_Norns

In addition to innumerable nameless spirits in the Northlands, three have names: Urd, (What Was Once), Verdandi, (What is Happening Now), and Skuld, (What Is to Come). They are the Norns. They are female and always appear near water: wells, lakes and rivers, that is, with the flow of time, with Fate and Destiny. This painting shows them about to gather at a well which, like them, predates by many thousands of years the arrival of Christianity, with its stone churches that replaced, at least for a time, the sacred forest groves where our ancestors spoke with spirits. I didn’t understand the words the Norns spoke to each other, but at least once, I thought I detected in the tone of their conversation a hint of something comforting to us humans.

The Presence of What is Absent

We’re told by ancient Greek stories that Aphrodite, the Goddess of sexual love, emerged from the depths of the sea in all her radiant beauty to help us blind humans see the radiant beauty in all the world, (and not incidentally, in each one of us.) The story goes even deeper, which you can discover for yourself when you swim in the ocean or more simply, by allowing yourself to taste the sea when you eat an oyster in its shell. With the brine in your mouth and your eyes closed, it takes no imagination whatever to realize that the sea is our mother, and the mother of everything else, as well.

To me, what’s most interesting about this watercolor, which I drew on Formentera, is what is not present, that is, Aphrodite herself. To be sure, she was a constant, invisible presence as I was drawing, but not in the water, like the vision of Botticelli, but rather surrounding me, like an envelope of light. When I return to California, I’ll invoke her presence directly in another painting, but meanwhile, this is an image of an inlet on a little island off the coast of Spain, where she is about to appear. Trust your imagination. She’s there in the waves. We just can’t see her, yet.