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Start March:  Art, Rain, Friends and Family

March 1-15, 2016
Written March 7+
Dear Diary, Friends, and Families,

OK.  Here's the deal: Nothing here is very exciting, or that's my thought as of the midpoint of this half-month period.  Nevertheless, I feel that if I don't write a record, nothing at all happened and that's not really what I mean.  Just nothing very exciting.  Read if you wish, but remember I didn't promise anything.  Much.

First, for anyone with a political leaning, I have a post-script with my thoughts on the current situation.  Just sayin'.

Next, normal activities.
We have had three or four March gatherings already with Cambridge Avenue neighbors.  Usually, they are so "normal" that I do not make pictures, but yesterday (10th) we had a pair of neighborhood-based "events".

d160310_02_artmuseum.jpgMid-day, we went to the Fresno Art Museum with neighbors Geri and Jim.  We had been "planning" this for a long time, but moving from plans to action seems difficult.  Even in retirement.  The Museum attraction was a display of Frieda Kahlo pictures taken by (one of) her sometime lover, Budapest-born Hungarian  Nickolas Muray.  The photos were technically excellent and Kahlo is absolutely a unique subject.  The Museum also showed a few of the emotional letters Muray and Kahlo exchanged and this added a back story of the Bohemian lives of the Depression-era artists.  Worth the visit.

d160310_10_restaurant.jpgAfterwards, we went to the Shepherd's Inn, an old time Fresno landmark and one of the few remaining Basque restaurants in town.  Apparently, the Central Valley used to be famous for restaurants catering to the immigrant Basque community, but few remain.  The authentic Basque meals  at Shepherd's Inn are seven-course feasts.  I know, this isn't diet material, but I had lost three pounds this week so I felt liberated.  (Those pounds did, in fact, come back!)
This being a Thursday, the Cambridge group was also having a 5-7pm Happy Hour.  This is a semi-regular event, most often on Thursday, but occasionally on any other day of the week too.  Great neighborhood event. This day's celebrations included inauguration of Susan and Jon's new back deck and welcoming Vern back  from his back operation and rehab.  There have been a rash of these quite serious reconstructions on our street, with Vern's wife Joan and our farthest neighbor Jim, both having been reconstructed last year.  All the talk of metal pins and screws makes me work harder at the gym to keep my as-built pieces and parts strong. 

d160306_02_startrain.jpgSpeaking of weather, we are actually getting rain.  Our old German rain gauge has recorded over two inches since the month began and rain is still in the forecast (14th).  I know, a couple of inches may not be a big deal for you, but that is a full month's allotment in the Fresno rainy season.

d160306_03_roses.jpgd160306_04_yard.jpgThe water and warmish weather has our rose bushes and back-yard trees sprouting and growing.  This really is a climate for growing, as long as that water shows up.

Our other recent activity has involved technology: new phones and television service.  My two-year-old iPhone was acting strange (again) and we wanted to see if a bigger iPhone could allow Marianne to manage without carrying both a phone and her iPad.  AT&T had a good promotion, so we found ourselves with two new iPhone6s+ gadgets. Nice machines.  Impressive technology.  Not TOO much learning, since we turned in iPhones just one generation old.  Nevertheless, we did have a day or two of techno-whining.  I get uptight and somewhat overwhelmed about the whole process and Marianne just gets overwhelmed. The angst is going away and the crying has stopped, so I guess we will make yet another phone generation transfer. (I believe this is our 8th or 9th shift in the last 16 years, but at least everything is in English now!)

d160308_02_timroof.jpg The new TV service installation happened on Tuesday, the 8th.  I did my standard worrying about the ugly installation of a satellite dish and the accompanying wires.  Tim, the DIRECTV guy worried about basics, like if the dish could even see the satellite through the trees.  In the end, he found the satellite and the installation is almost invisible.  Good work.  Now, we are learning a new system for finding our channels, and DIRECTV seems no more complicated than AT&T Uverse was.  Nevertheless, learning these things is hard on old heads.

On the art front, Marianne continues to work hard, producing both small plaster-based creations and larger paintings.  She has a show coming up, and wants to be sure to have good material, since the show will be at her friend Valerie's gallery.  Come if you are in town on the third Thursday of April.  Here are some of the wonderful new attractions:

The other development in the art hut has been new shelving, a furniture addition that prompted a complete rearranging of the work space. After losing a day or two, the artist is back to her easel.  Her mother is one of her fans and was particularly taken by the "flower picture" (second one in top row above.)

d160303_02_arthopsign.jpgd160303_04_traditional.jpgSpeaking of art, we made it to three new venues at the First Thursday Art Hop for March. The first stop was at the Fresno Art Hub, a small gallery a few blocks from home.  The Hub is a kind of artist club, to which our house artist now belongs, and they display a variety of art from local artists.

d160303_06_encaustic.jpgI was particularly attracted to two displays, the first of which were encaustic paintings by Flo Bartell.  Encaustic is a hot wax process that Marianne's friend Valerie practices and teaches and lessons there were the basis for Marianne's current plaster-based works.  Ms. Bartell's work was most colorful and I love the depth of the method.  (I still have my doubts about the durability of wax in the Fresno climate, one advantage of Marianne's approach.)
 We were also very impressed by Michael J Costa's photo series entitled "Fro-Zen". This is a series of macro pictures of blossoms and leaves that he freezes in water and takes pictures as they are thawing.  I was so taken by his enthusiastic telling of his process, that I completely forgot to snap a shot or two to show, but I came back later and bought this post card.

From the Art Hub, it was down to central Fresno and the Fresno Ideaworks.  We had never been to this warehouse-like building and were quite amazed at the work going on.  (Son Brian is active in Tinkermill, a comparable "Maker" center in Longmont, Colorado.) Ideaworks is a club, of sorts, where members can use both the space and many of the machines to create a huge variety of artistic and craft products, everything from glass and wood turnings to digitally-controlled carving, pottery, and anime costume creation. 

Our third stop on the Art Hop evening was at Broadway Studios, in the downtown Mural District.  If Ideaworks were the nerds, and Art Hub was the "nice people", Broadway Studios was home to a most Bohemian collection of artists.  There are almost two-dozen gallery spaces with some showings even a bit more avant garde than we normally search for.  However, what impressed me most was the crowd of young and enthusiastic artists and friends.  Fresno may not be 18th Century Paris, but there is a community here and we hope, some day, they will all be rich and famous.  (Including Valerie and Marianne, of course.)

d160311_02_hail.jpgd160311_04_tower.jpgFor Friday (11th) night out we stayed close to home, in part because there was rain and even hail falling.  Most unusual!  We drove the few blocks down into the Tower District and started with simple dinner at Irene's, our go-to diner for straight-forward meals.  Before we headed over to the theater, we dropped by the Spectrum Art Gallery and learned that they had been sponsoring and displaying local photography for decades.  Somehow we had missed this in the last two years of surveying the Fresno art scene.  I need to investigate further.

d160311_08_inside.jpgd160311_06_poster.jpgFrom there, it was over to the Tower Theater for our art film experience.  Always iffy, in my view.  Tonight's feature was "The Treasure", a dark Romanian comedy and winner of some sort of Cannes Film award.  It is always nice seeing films in the beautifully-reconstructed Tower, and the film was ... interesting.  We recognized some of the irony in the post-Soviet story, but I will opt for a less cerebral film experience next time.

Our weekend was rainy and uneventful.  The damp is unusual, but welcome. However, the quiet is pretty normal.  At the last minute Sunday morning, we asked Mamo if she could get ready for a breakfast up at Tanaya Lodge, near Yosemite.  It's one of our favorite rides and, of course, she agreed immediately.  The drive into the mountains was a bit gray and drippy, but that's what good weather looks like around here this winter.  Up near the lodge, there were snow banks alongside the road, but nothing on the road for our tire chains.  Good.

Tanaya Lodge, unlike the facilities inside Yosemite Park, has remained under the existing name and management.  It is a modern facility, but has the feel of an older National Park lodge.  Nice place for an excursion, a meal, and a few pictures.

d160310_30_comingup.jpgNext week we will have some beach and family time and another show by High Country, one of brother Tom's bluegrass bands.  Another story.

John and Marianne

I have essentially given up on broadcast news programs, quite a change from the news-junky I had always considered myself.  The Republican primary contest, and the network coverage of it, have chased me away.  I suppose I should not fault CNN and their contemporaries for such focus.  It is important, after all.  It's just that I can only handle so much of broadcast screaming and swearing and general lack of civility and common sense.

Speaking of Donald, I find myself almost (almost!) defending him as simply an entertainer seeking ratings.  In my view, the real evil can be found in his followers and they were there before he arrived and, unfortunately, will be there after he fades, if in fact that happens.  Historically, the trend toward self-righteousness, jingoist nationalism, resurgent racism, self-armed anger, and them-versus-us has been with us for a few decades, long since Donald Trump even considered himself a Republican.

A Facebook friend recommended this Chris Hedges article "The Revenge of the Lower Classes and the Rise of American Fascism".  The article was rabidly anti-Democratic Party, and hence wrong in my view I suppose, but calling the Trump followers fascists contains enough truth to be frightening.  The followers are white, middle class, angry, nationalistic, and proud to be "not politically correct", a not-so-secret code for racist.  It is the heart of  The Red States of  America, otherwise known as the South and Midwest.  Hedges' article blamed the Democrats and the Obama administration, but the Red-Blue split and the rise of populist anger began much earlier than 2008.

I just finished reading "1924, The Year That Made Hitler", a story of Hitler's time in prison after his first push for power in late 1923.  The description of Hitler's followers matches Hedges' description of American red-state fascists: haters, anti-intellectuals, racists, nationalists, violent.  The parallel is disturbing, even more so since a peaceful resolution is not as simple as defeating Mr. Trump in the primaries or the general election.  Another fanatic leader will want those voters (Mr. Cruz, for example.)

I certainly don't know the solution, but it will not come from a focus on Trump.  Stopping his rabble-rousing may be a necessary step, but he is not the root cause of the rise of American Fascism.  Nor is the current Obama administration.  Nor, simply, the previous Bush administration.  Frankly, I wonder when it DID start?  Something for a future rant.


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