Monday, December 28, 2009


It's so cold, even nightlights seem warm.

If Stella was a painter and lived in 17th century Italy and painted a self portrait, she could sign it Stella Caravaggia. Ha ha ha.

When I was up in Chicago about 10 days ago, there was a Caravaggio exhibit (the artist known for chiaroscuro, paintings focused on light and shadow). One of the guards on the main floor told me I was not to miss it but when I finally found the gallery, it was the same stuff I had seen when I was a little girl (and I think in the same room!). The guard in that gallery admitted that there was one new painting and pointed to it on the far wall. Well....sometimes you're in the mood and some days you're looking for things that surprise and delight. If I had stopped to read the description of Caravaggio though, he was definitely full of the personality. He would spend a couple weeks on a somber religious painting and then go out and look for a fight. He sure had a lot of Irish in him for being an Italian. The painting on loan was something that I most probably won't see again in my lifetime so I really should have stopped for a full scrutiny...but I was driven to look at other things and besides, I didn't have all day, just part of a day.

Down the hall from the Caravaggio, a dark hall, were 36 of these small busts made by Honore Daumier. Oh my oh my oh my. When I first saw them I thought, who were these guys and what did Daumier have against them???? Surely he wasn't friends with any of them. I learned later that he created these busts as models for political caricatures. The originals he used were modeled in clay but the ones in this glass case were cast in bronze posthumously.

Those faces!

All smug and nasty (I'm curious about the bump on the head of this one).

Looking like characters from a Dickens novel...the evil characters.

I was drawn to one in particular and apparently at least one of these characters did turn out to be someone that Daumier liked, well, I'm assuming he did because the two worked together. This is his friend Charles Philipon, the editor of La Caricature, a French satirical political journal and also the less politically extreme Le Charivari (which was the model for England's Punch magazine). It was hard to take a picture through glass in a very dark hall with no flash....but try to imagine a face with a pleasant expression with a very long and upturned nose. His personality was actually very charming in contrast to everyone else in the case.

In some sort of an odd way, he reminds me of my friend Ken. This little bronze just has that stance of Ken, always looking up. I remember one time attending midnight mass with him at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco one Christmas Eve. That was quite the blend of people in attendance. There were the wealthy, wealthy people and then there were the kids just off the street playing air guitar, the drag queens and of course the full-on Christmas procession pageantry with the dousing of everyone in the aisles with incense (cough cough cough). When mass was over we ran across the street to L'Etoile and drank single-malt scotch to celebrate ourselves and Christmas.

Ken and I met when we worked in a publishing company a long time ago. I was always late, really late getting to work each morning because...I just don't like getting out of bed. Thirty years later it's still an issue. Ha ha ha. However, Ken would do his best to get me to work sort of on time by calling me when he got to work and then asking me if I was awake. I would lie and say yes (I can have lucid telephone conversations when I'm half asleep or even a higher percentage than that). Ken would ask if my eyes were open. I would lie and say yes. He would then ask me what the weather was like. I'd lie and say the sun was out. He would ask if I could go to the window and tell him exactly what I saw. I'd lie and make up something. Then he'd get serious and would ask me a complicated math problem. He would ask something like what 47 times 16 was and then...I'd damn him because those math problems wake you up!

Ken grew up in the south and had a strong Atlanta accent. He studied music at Yale (which is in Connecticut) and is probably the smartest person I have known. Ken's accent however, made it hard for some people to understand him at times. One of my favorite stories was when he had to go get ice for a party when he was at Yale. When he was at the convenience store, he asked for some "ahse." The cashier did not know what he was talking about. I think she answered with an "excuse me?" He repeated his request for some "ahse." I think she replied with another "excuse me" but probably this time with a more frustrated face. Ken repeated his request. She still did not know what he was talking about. I think they volleyed one question followed by the other's question for such a long time that when it was Ken's turn to ask his question again, Ken got so frustrated he just yelled out "AHSE! FROZEN WATER, COMES IN CUBES!"

Ken was a beautifully expressive writer even when it came to professional correspondence. I remember he was having a hard time with a difficult customer and things got so bad that when he sent his final letter, he ended it with "Madam, I refrain from a complimentary closing." Ha ha ha.

He also had a beautiful voice and when I needed to say no to someone at work, I'd borrow him to deliver a baritone "NO."

I think about Ken every Christmas and on the 28th of December because today is Ken's birthday. He would have been...57 I think. Ken passed away three years ago from cancer. We had grown apart for at least five years before his passing because it was so hard to get past his significant other. When I would call, that awful man would answer the phone and try to make me go away by saying that they were preparing dinner, eating dinner, or cleaning up after dinner. There was always an excuse of something being a before, during or after. After a while I just gave up.

I flew out for Ken's memorial in San Francisco and made Michael (who also worked with us) go with me. Michael was not happy about that, mainly because he couldn't stand Ken's partner either. We were the first ones to arrive at the church and positioned ourselves at the very back because we did not want that awful man to see us. When we saw that that awful man had entered the church and was walking up the aisle, Michael and I both (at the exact same time) slid down in the pew and put the programs over our faces. In San Francisco the sun just about never comes out but it did that day and when the light burst through the stained glass windows on that awful man and Michael and me, I knew that was Ken laughing at the three of us.

We found out later that that awful man had another one of his outbursts when Ken's choir had gathered to sing under his window at the hospice. The awful man had gone to Cala to get some groceries and when he came back to find the choir under the window, took out the canned goods and threw them at the choir members until they ran away. I'm sure if I looked for that awful man in that Daumier case, I would find him, front and center.

Ken always made me laugh and was amused and bemused by so many things. I am always drawn to people who can do that and I miss him. People come and go in your life but if you have some good stories, you can introduce your friend to other people even if that friend isn't around anymore. So today I think of Ken, and laugh about the stories of him and his music friends (his friend Harry performed the Nutcracker on STILTS on Japanese TV!) and wish Ken a happy birthday...and I know he hears me because the sun is gloriously bright today. :-)


Leenie said...

Stella looks like she IS posing for Caravaggio. Thanks for sharing the photos from the museum and the great story about your friend.

Rural Rambler said...

Maria what a sweet birthday tribute to your friend Ken. He sounds like a very nice man AND funny. I love funny. Have to have funny in our lives. Can't somebody find a freaking cure for cancer so that the people we love, all the funny, kind, sweet, super talented, bright, EVERYBODY would still be here and our lives would be so much richer. How lucky we would be with them still here.

The busts are very cool, amusing and bring me a smile. And Stella you is fullahella! And I thought our Bud Bird was a feathery demon!

Maureen said...

My Ken's name was Bob and he died of AIDS 20 years ago. Still miss him today.

Maria said...

Leenie-Yes, yes she does. She's a very artistic bird. Somewhere on this blog is one of her art pieces-a sculpture of shredded duct tape. And yes, I wasn't sure if I was getting too maudlin writing about Ken. Who needs that? I sincerely appreciate your comment that you enjoyed hearing about him. :-)

Rural-Oh I was a-rambling when I wrote that post. I was going to write about characters I saw at the museum and ended up writing about Ken because he was on my mind. Just a coincidence that the little bust looked like him and I found him in that glass case of "awful men."

I know. Cancer takes a lot of wonderful people out of this world but so many people are now cancer survivors. A lot. I'm very, very thankful for that. I love funny too and am really lucky to sit next to someone at work, a cancer survivor, who makes me laugh all day.

And yes, Stella is as bad as they come. Did you ever see my December 8, 2008 post about her? That sort of explains it all.

Aw, Maureen. I know. There are some people you want to have around when you become an old, old lady because to finally become that is high humor. I was kind of hoping Ken would be around to witness that.

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