Els Segadors

Sketch of Salvadore Dali statue in surreal Cadaques, Catalonia. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2013.

Sketch of Salvadore Dali statue in surreal Cadaques, Catalonia. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2013.

Maybe it’s gravity, centrifugal force, or just the force of my own nature, but I always find a comfortable place to anchor, while traveling amongst the new. No surprise confession here, but I love comfortable places where friends talk over wine and beer, and in Barcelona, I will add Els Quatre Gats to my list. Of course given my current obsessions with cycling, it helps a lot that the café features a mural size art nouveau style painting of two cyclists on a tandem by Ramon Casas. Opened in 1897, Els Quatre Gats was a home to the artists and intellectuals participating in Barcelona’s Modernisme movement. It was a favorite place of Picasso, who came to Barcelona to study painting, laying the foundation for his Blue Period. Picasso had strong connections to this region, personally requesting that the Museo Picasso be built in Barcelona. Over glasses of cava and grilled calamari, we talked about our day visiting the northern Catalonia towns of Figures, Cadaques and Port Lligat on the “Salvadore Dali Trail,” and mused about the two artists and their context within the Spanish Civil War.

Painted in 1937, Picasso created Guernica in response to the then recent bombing and destruction of the Basque village by German and Italian warplanes allied with Franco’s forces fighting the Spanish Republic’s Popular Front. Guernica was first exhibited in June 1937 at the Paris International Exposition by the Spanish Republican Government and then travelled to England and the United States with the hope of raising awareness and sympathy for the elected government of the Spanish people. Picasso, who died in 1973, never returned to Spain while Franco was dictator.

Sketch of harbor near Dali's home in Port Lligat, Catalonia. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2013.

Sketch of harbor near Dali’s home in Port Lligat, Catalonia. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2013.

In 1936, Salvador Dali painted Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil War). Known as a Surrealist, Dali worked in what he described as the paranoiac critical method to access the subconscious for greater artistic creativity. While sketches for the painting are dated to 1934, Dali felt the painting described the many hardships endured by Spaniards during the Spanish Civil War. In 1934, Dali was expelled from Surrealism by Andre Breton and the other Surrealists allegedly because of his ambiguous position on the relationship between politics and art. Dali returned to Spain in 1949, living in Port Lligat until his death in 1989 fully embracing Franco’s dictatorship.

Remembrance

Sunset on Monterey Bay from the UC Santa Cruz bike path. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2013.

Sunset on Monterey Bay from the UC Santa Cruz bike path. Inspired by the artist Doug Ross. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2013.

Lately, cycling has taken a prominent place in my life; it obsesses my thoughts and it floats through my dreams. I continually cruise peoples’ bikes comparing brands and components; I obsessively monitor my tire pressure; free moments catch me surfing the internet planning road rides; and sometimes in sleep I am climbing the Col du Tourmalet in the Pyrenees and see myself flying downhill, joyously singing, alive, transcendent. Cycling is my primary transportation to work in Santa Cruz and I love everything about it: my breath hanging in the cold morning air; the golden sunrise dancing on the waves; the smell of sardines in the harbor; the cormorants drying their wings at the mouth of the San Lorenzo; the sight of the Big Dipper at the Boardwalk; the red-shouldered hawk’s cry piercing the still meadow; and the steady rhythm of my heart. I’ve even come to humor the stiffness in my cranky knees. But lately, cycling has also become poignant. Riding has become a ritual of honor, an epic poem of remembrance, my song of mourning.

 Every year the AIDS Lifecycle, the 545-mile weeklong bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles begins with a ceremony featuring the poignant entry of the riderless bike. The entourage escorting the bike includes self-identified HIV positive cyclists calling themselves the Positive Peddlers; the ritual honors those who have passed and those who are so ill they cannot ride. In the 1990s, I worked with a wonderful man and archivist named Willie Walker. A nurse on the SF General Hospital AIDS Ward, Walker, when he realized gay history was becoming a victim of the AIDS epidemic, founded the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) Historical Society of San Francisco, along with Alan Berube, Estelle Freedman, and several others. Walker was also the project archivist for the UC San Francisco (UCSF) Library AIDS History Project.  During the 1990s, Walker was my colleague and friend when we collaborated at GLBT and UCSF. In June 2002, I did my first AIDS cycling event, the European AIDS Vaccine ride.  This month, I registered to make this epic journey again. In June 2014, I will ride in the AIDS Lifecycle to raise money to help persons living with AIDS and HIV and to honor friends I have lost.  We lost the generous, loving, and dedicated Walker several years ago, not to AIDS, but to other natural causes. But on the road to Los Angeles, I will honor and remember Walker and how he fought AIDS by keeping history alive.

 A ghost bike is a bicycle painted white, serving as a roadside memorial when a cyclist has been injured or killed by a motorist. It is hoped that the memorial will remind drivers to slow down, share the road, and fully grasp the potential destructive capacity of the vehicles they drive. In early November, we lost Josh Alper while he was cycling north of Santa Cruz on Highway One. Josh was beloved by so many; he brought us music, humor and such sweetness.  He was also so earnest about helping students and faculty at the UCSC Library. When shopping for a new bike, I purchased my new wheels at Santa Cruz’s Spokesman on Josh’s recommendation. Josh was a gearhead about bikes and Spokesman is a bike shop with a tip-top crew of gearheads; they, like Josh, know their stuff.  From talking to Josh, it was clear he loved riding, building and maintaining his bike.  He was also devoted to the history of the sport. Waiting in line for coffee, he often spoke to me about his deep respect for Greg LeMond, three-time winner of the Tour de France and the only American to win this epic contest. He urged me to read Slaying the Badger: Greg LeMond, Bernard Hinault, and the Greatest Tour de France; he loaned me his copy so I could understand the now mythologized rivalry between teammates LeMond and Hinault. In honor of Josh, the Spokesman bike crew assembled the ghost bike, one of many memorials to this young man. You are greatly missed Josh, and always will be. In early 2014, I will ride with other cyclists to honor, remember and mourn Josh as we escort his ghost bike to its final resting place.

Homer’s poetic narrative of the Trojan War, The Iliad ensures immortality for Achilles and his fellow warriors. Inscribing their glory in battle, their deeds live on, honored in perpetuity. In Ancient Greece, the recitation of the epic poem was an act of remembrance, honoring the glory of warriors. In 21st century California, with the act of cycling, I will honor, remember, and mourn the glory of lost comrades.

Be Alert! Deer Crossing the Roadway!

Young deer in the Santa Cruz meadow. Copyright 2013 Robin L. Chandler.

Young deer in the Santa Cruz meadow. Copyright 2013 Robin L. Chandler.

UC Santa Cruz is a special place; where else would you find a traffic sign flashing bright orange “be alert…deer crossing the roadway.” Cycling into work, I laughed lovingly acknowledging both the practical advice and the deeper meaning of mindfulness. Situated on a mountain overlooking the Pacific, the campus is replete with rolling meadows and coastal forests of tanoak, bay laurel, Pacific madrone and the regal Redwoods. An ecosystem intimately shared by animals, plants and people. After a quiet summer, September signals major events in certain campus populations: the academic cycle migration of homo sapiens and the advent of the breeding season for California mule deer. The traffic signal brings some needed intervention to manage the humans and deer inhabiting this space. All summer the bucks have roamed the meadows as a herd while their antlers grew big and strong preparing to compete for a mate. Next spring, fawns begin the cycle anew. Riding up the bike path through the thirsty meadow, I wonder from where the mountain lion watches these migrations and lifecycles. Will I ever see one?

Right mindfulness, an element of the Buddhist eight-fold path, teaches adherents to be alert, present, building awareness of the moment…the path to enlightenment. Earlier this year, I received a gift from the wife of a landscape painter whose work I greatly admire; she connected me to the work of Peter Matthiessen, Buddhist and writer of fiction and many well-respected books about the environment including the National Book Award winner The Snow Leopard.  Trekking through Nepal with the ancient Buddhist shrine Shey Gompa on Crystal Mountain as their destination, Matthiessen and the field biologist George Schaller were seeking research data on the Blue Sheep and the Snow Leopard.  Truly a book about his spiritual journey, Matthiessen finds the revered Lama of Shey who blesses him with a koan “Have you seen the snow leopard? No. Isn’t that wonderful!”  Matthiessen writes “I feel great gratitude for being here, for being, rather for there is no need to hike oneself to the snow mountains in order to feel free.  I am not here to seek the “crazy wisdom;” if I am, I shall never find it. I am here to be here, like these rocks and sky and snow, like this hail that is falling down out of the sun…the absurdity of a life that may well end before one understands it does not relieve one of the duty (to that self which is inseparable from others) to live it as bravely and generously as possible.”

It is the season when deer are on the minds of many. Last weekend we attended the fundraiser for the journal West Marin Review held by Point Reyes Books. Two great women poets read from their work: Kay Ryan and Jane Hirshfield and ironically among the many poems they read, they both chose to read works about deer. Selecting a poem from her book The Best of It, Ryan read “a buck looks up: the touch of his rack against wet bark whispers a syllable singular to deer; the next one hears and shifts; the next head stops and lifts; deeper and deeper into the park.” Hirschfeld choose a poem from The Lives of the Heart and read “a root seeks water. Tenderness only breaks open the earth. This morning, out the window, the deer stood like a blessing, then vanished.

Tell me a story Siri

Santa Cruz Boardwalk Copyright 2012 Robin L. Chandler

Nearly every morning I meet my good friend at Java Junction and we bike to work at UC Santa Cruz along the boardwalk and finally up the hill and through the great meadow and the redwood trees. It’s a special way to spend the early morning: connecting with a great friend while cycling in such a beautiful place.  The eight miles pass quickly always made fun by the stories we tell each other.  My friend says “its all about the conversation,” and she is so right; life is all about sharing our stories.

In this age –  our moment in time – it’s all about sharing our stories of the past, present and future and staying connected.  Facebook, Google+, Linkedin, Twitter, WordPress, Yelp and YouTube make this possible. Its also about having the tools to make sense of all this information – to gather, organize, comment, enhance and recommend this information using tools like Digg, Reddit, RSS feeds, Storify, Tumblr, TweetDeck and Unilyzer to name but a few.  My life in archives and libraries is all about collecting, preserving and making accessible our culture’s stories – and it is a broad range of stories – published and unpublished, formal and casual, analytical and subjective.

At the recent WebWise 2012 conference we learned about many exciting projects funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to help individuals and groups create, share and preserve “stories” and build tools to make sense of and use this information. Simply put its about making it easier to make connections.  Dave Isay founder of StoryCorps spoke passionately about his belief in the power of the microphone.  A simple, straightforward format places two people in front of a microphone for forty minutes and their stories are recorded.  While it does not take the place of formal oral history, StoryCorps capture an important snapshot of people’s lives in space and time.  In over eight years, StoryCorps has captured over 40,000 interviews with over 70,000 people that are now archived in the Library of Congress.   David Klevan of the US Holocaust Museum described the sobering but important work of the Remember Me? Project which uses Facebook and Twitter to release photographs of children (now adults) orphaned by the Holocaust and World War II with the goal of reuniting them with surviving family members worldwide.  Eileen McAdam of the Hudson Valley Sound and Story Project described her project’s work to share sections of formal oral histories using new technologies synchronizing oral history snippets with GPS enabled mobile apps.  Doug Boyd of the University of Kentucky Digital Library Project to create the Oral History Metadata Synchronizer to dynamically index audio and video digital files creating access points to collections of oral histories.

Today’s technology is increasingly about sharing and staying connected.  We have a world of knowledge at our fingertips and a world populated with individuals we can tap into <and they to us> in an instant 24/7.  As in past revolutions, our emerging technologies provide new opportunities to share and learn about each other.  Creating new opportunities to build tolerance and patience, and perhaps empathy for one another. To make a connection.  It is a promising story with promise to fulfill.

Feliz ano Nuevo

Early morning and first day of the New Year, dinner was already in the bag.  The black-eyed peas were cooked and we still had a little smoked turkey from “Tejas”  – my Dad’s annual holiday gift.  We were ready for our traditional new years pilgrimage to the ocean.  The truck easily covered the fifty-mile distance seamlessly crossing the once Spanish and Mexican ranchos — remembered now mostly as streets, colleges, landmarks or towns named for land grants – Peralta, San Pedro, Nicasio, Tomales and de Los Reyes.  Sir Francis Drake Boulevard holds some thirty years of memories: the old white horse in the corral just west of Lagunitas (a toy horse perched on the fence has sadly replaced the original); seeing my first Steelhead with Jane in Lagunitas Creek on our bike-camping trip from Santa Rosa to San Francisco; watching the Salmon with Wave as they lay their eggs in redds just below Kent Lake; and the journey to Bolinas in the old VW bug for my first kayaking adventure with Glo, John and Carol.

Before reaching the beach, two mandatory stops are necessary.  Ginger & Chocolate-Chocolate-Cherry cookies from the Bovine Bakery are a must: necessary fuel for the hike ahead.   Stocking up on our reading materials was another must at the Point Reyes Books.  We are members of their Community Supported Bookstore Program a cool new idea inspired by community supported agriculture to help sustain independent book sellers.  Supporters make a deposit with the bookstore and draw upon that amount for future purchases.  Brilliant! I hope other bookstores start this program!  A lover of browsing, I bought my first book of 2012, a volume by the roots music guitarist Ry Cooder: Los Angeles Stories.  Looks like my kind of book.  Fiction, but the kind of stories you might gather by sitting down with the everyday folks in your community over a cup of coffee and listening to their life; learning about their part in our shared history.  Revived both gastronomically and intellectually, we headed on down the road to Limantour Beach to let the ocean ions do their purifying thang.  We walked the beach length in the bright sunshine, the waves gently lapping at our feet and the sweet ocean air wafting through us.  Later, alone in the truck for a few minutes while Wave lingered to capture a last image of a beautiful day, I queued Mary Gautier’s Mercy Now.  As I look to the year ahead may everyone have “ a little mercy now.”

waves of glass

Fall is here.  There is a little chill in the air and the sun’s journey southward gives forth a particular quality of light.  This week has found me cycling as much as possible, and I naturally gravitate to the coast to ride the 101 as it meanders through the communities of La Jolla, Del Mar, Cardiff, Encinitas and Leucadia. Every few miles I get a spectacular view of crystalline blue waves peaking and crashing into torrents of white foam and see the surfers catch a wave and joyously ride the crest balanced precariously somewhere between chaos and nirvana. “Clear and sweet is my soul, clear and sweet is all that is not my soul,” wrote Walt Whitman in Leaves of Grass.

Swamis_encinitas

Sunset North County San Diego: Swami’s Beach. Copyright 2009 Robin L. Chandler

A few weeks ago, I visited Cape Cod and I was thrilled to see a group of surfers anglin’ on ankle busters, but I think they imagined the waves as a bonsai pipeline.

Truro_CapeCod

Near Truro on Cape Cod. Copyright 2009 Robin L. Chandler

The view of the ocean from the saddle of my bike is where my soul opens up, and my spirit returns to balance.  On the bike, I scout out places to paint and observe the world at a pace that allows for interaction, reflection and a laugh or two.  Yesterday it was great fun to see  Surfrider Foundation members  on street corners  in Cardiff  for their “Hold onto Your Butts” campaign.  They were spending their Saturday morning reminding us that cigarette butts do not belong on the beach.  It is another of Surfrider Foundation’s good causes  part of their beach clean-up efforts  and their larger campaigns like “Save Trestles”  which kept a  toll road out of San Onofre State Park. They do good work.  They teach us to be responsible for our beaches and oceans as we should be for any good friend.   These are two watercolors that I’ve recently painted of late afternoons  in North County San Diego and Truro on Cape Cod.  Both pristine and soul redeeming spaces.

To feel the earth beneath my feet….

Grazing near Tomales Bay

Grazing near Tomales Bay. Copyright 2009 Robin L. Chandler

In the Spring of 2009, we returned to Marin County  just north of San Francisco to visit what I consider to be one of the most heavenly places on earth — the region near and around Tomales Bay — a land preserved by a mixture of sustainable agriculture and state and national parks.  A place of peace where thoughtfulness comes as easily as breathing.  It is always a homecoming of sorts for me.  It has been the site of many adventures  over the years: the kayak trips to Hog Island, the hikes through Bear Valley to Mt. Wittenberg, the cycling past Nicasio and hours spent painting and sketching the area from many vantage points.  The watercolors posted here are two of my attempts to capture the beauty of the place. It also brings to mind for me Wallace Stegner,  a writer who always opens my mind to the landscape through which I travel.  In 2008 the Point Reyes Books sponsored the “Geography of Hope”  conference focusing on the environmental writings of Stegner.

In his “Wilderness Letter” dated December 3, 1960,  Stegner wrote  “we simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in.  For it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope.”