Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Bird Watching, Modelling, Postcard Inspiration, and an Important Point About So-Called “International Artists”

Have you ever lived with a bird fanatic? Someone who can tell you a blue-feathered tit breezed by without your even noticing? I do. It’s strange. Frank is not only an avid bird watcher, but he also leads bird-seeing tours here in southern Portugal.

The uncannyness of it all struck me for the first time when we were driving home one night. The first few kilometres of our journey leaving the Quinta ranch traverse a bumpy dirt track. But even the bearable unpleasantness of the track’s bumps and thumps were abruptly interrupted by Frank at the wheel slamming on the brakes.

“There!” It was pitch black. “There! Did you see it?” Nothing but darkness. “God it was beautiful!” He started the car back up again. Before I had the chance to ask him what just happened, he was already into his monologue about the owl he just saw. “They only come out at night, these ones, and you’ll usually find them swooping around looking for worms and lizards to grab for dinner. They’re just magnificent.” Driving with Frank has taught me to think twice about birds that fly by a car I’m in. I would, however, consider Frank lucky he has very little traffic to deal with out here in the middle of woop woop. If Frank pulled his antics on I-95, he would be lucky to avert a ten car pile-up.

Check out his blog at www.paradise-in-portugal.com/blog/.


Hugh Wood is an artist from England who came to stay here at the ranch. I met him after one of many canoe trips with my sometimes-favorite dog here at the ranch, Lucky (a future post for these dogs is well overdue). Hugh and Frank had stopped by the stonewall Uwe and I had been working on, and based on how they spoke with each other, it was clear they were old friends.

After the canoe ride, Hugh was hanging out at the pontoon with his wife. We got to talking, and when I told him I was planning to hike the Camino de Santiago, he became overcome with joy and excitement. He spoke of his many adventures cycling from England to Santiago de Compostela with his son. Our conversation branched about his many interesting, self-steered trips, to Brazil and India, enriching his eye and inspiration with exotic subject matter. Check him out at http://www.dunfordwood.co.uk/.

Hugh painting:

Before talking to Hugh, I had been feeling apprehensive about the camino. 750 km hiking alone? It sounded better in casual settings and conversations, but mulling it over in my head here in Portugal as I lay stone after stone upon the wall made me think twice. Could I really do it? Will I have too much stuff? After being immersed in Hugh’s enthusiasm for the idea, the self-doubt dissipated, my determination renewed. I also received a postcard here in Portugal from Merlini Joelle, the mother of my research partner in Paris. It was Merlini who, a few months ago, told me all about the camino and how great it was. Merlini was on the camino and sent me a postcard. It was such a great feeling to get mail! It was the last thing I expected, and the short message was a welcome surprise.

Hugh painted a number of works in his few days here. Some he drew on a canoe in the middle of the lake, singing to himself, of all things, Ave Maria, and other obscure songs that sounded like British pop – or maybe it was another genre rendering itself as British pop to me because of his accent. One of his paintings was drawn near the hammock, and I was surprised by the ease with which he carried on a conversation with me as he painted. The closest comparison I can draw is trying to talk while playing guitar, which for me is extremely difficult. But I do remember the fantastic conversations that would take place while painting in high school art class. Maybe painting and conversation are more compatible than I think. Anyways, I was standing in Hugh’s line of sight, and he ended up incorporating me into the painting. Now I can add “international modelling experience” to my resume…here I come Morgan Stanley.

My modelling debut. I'm the only stud in the painting.

An important point about “international artists”, and “international experience” in general. Many musicians, actors, writers, etc that I know tend to use the word “international” in their biographies as a mark of prestige, the assumption being that if an artist has international stature, then they surely must be good. And this probably is more often true than it is false. The idea of international, however, is not as grand as it seems. In Europe, for example, a pianist from Lichtenstein might have a concert in Luxembourg, and they henceforth have become an “international performing artist”. The language of it conjures images far grander than the actual reality. Even me, with my stonewall building and brick laying here in Portugal, could endow myself with the exaggerated title of “international architect”. While it is true, I believe that the words evoke something much greater. Just another example of language clouding and complicating reality, and in turn, using it to describe such oddities.

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