Sunday, May 27, 2012

a place worth finding...

Beyond serendipity       At that time, on the outskirts of Havana more than 15 years ago, as I hiked up the shady concrete driveway to Ernest Hemingway’s Cuban villa, Finca Vigía , the question I carried with me about Hemingway didn’t seem to have an answer. At least not one I could discern.

When the path opened to reveal a driveway that circled by the front side of his home that was close to its corner room with wooden shutters, wide open, I hurried to look inside, then to take pictures of what I saw. I wanted clues to help answer my question, the one I didn’t come close to answering when I was in Key West touring Hemingway’s two storey stucco and its community of six toed cats.

“No! No!” I was told by two women in khakis, security guards without guns. “Cinquo dollares,” they told me, if I wanted to take pictures. My admission ticket hadn’t paid for that.

Suureptitiously, pretending not to understand, I took three or four more shots as I’d peered into his simple bedroom, its ordinary furniture, the posters on the wall advertising bull fights in Spain. Finally, one woman, while blocking my view,  pelted me with what may have been the only English phrase she knew. She insisted, “Five dollars, please!”

Refusing that, I put away my camera, then walked inside. Next to Hemingway’s bed were ordinary brown leather lace-up shoes (about size 9 1/2), modest and well worn. Wire rimmed glasses sat on a night table. It was mid day; I couldn’t tell whether they were meant to indicate whether he may have been coming or going. Indeed, even though his boat, Pilar, had been hauled out in and stored in a building not far from his house, it appeared to be temporarily at rest rather than parked forever. If I’d seen Pilar’s captain in a nearby room, I wouldn’t have been surprised.

That flashback had been stowed away for a long while until last night when I was driving home from Hillsborough, NC, a place I never tire of returning to. I’m drawn to three blocks of its downtown anchored by the Weaver Street Market and its organic bounty.

But last night I hurried from Weaver Street to make a few more stops before 8:00 p.m. However, I needn’t have rushed to Matthew’s Chocolates (although I always do!) or to the Eno Gallery. Since this was the last Friday in the month, all shops were open to 9:00.

At the Eno, I was greeted by Mark Donley and Tinka Jordy and their angel colored German shepherd. “Sorry I couldn’t make the opening last night,” I quipped, as I sped upstairs to see the sculptures of Daniel Essig and the fiber works of his wife, Vicki Essig. Mark followed.

He caught up with me as I reeled with delight at Daniel Essig’s $25,000 book monster, a gator mobile with tiny handmade books that fit into notches hewn into its wooden spine. Every inch of the more than two foot long piece featured textural details that defied anticipation; I couldn’t have known tiny watch faces could work like symbolic scales, that any man made creature could carry time and literature like an irresistable vendor of both.

I wanted to shrink to a size small enough to hike onto, into, and around Essig’s work. Each piece was too intricate for a quick study. But that’s all I had time for. Indeed, I wanted a magnifying glass and time enough alone with each of his three dimensional pieces so that my mind and my eyes could sink into each one. Years earlier, at a gallery in D.C., on a day when snow kept most visitors away, I had the same feeling as I scanned more than a dozen Vermeers less than a foot from each canvas.

But I moved on to Vicki Essig’s work, each piece so clean and clear, each reminiscent of a Zen garden framed. As much as I wanted to tinker with her husband’s work, I wanted to meditate on hers. Each was a shrine to immaculate detail and balance. A number of pieces sang to me as if they had copied the harmony of trees, as if they had borrowed perfect moments made perfect forever. Some were that hypnotic.

“This one’s a steal,”  Mark announced. He had no way of knowing that I’d made it to the work of Alberto Ortega Rodas the way a leaf makes its way to the other side of a yard. I’d been carried along by the Essig jetstream, its current of creativity that worked as oars on my unthinking feet.

I snapped to a gallery-goer’s attention. “Love it,” I said, hoping my voice didn’t sound like it had barely emerged from a back room at the house of Essig. “And you’re right about the price. I saw the same thing when I searched for artists in Havana. For a few hundred dollars each, I bought two masterpeices.”

Compared to the Essigs’, the work I’d seen in Cuba was old-fashioned art, its brushwork stunning and meticulous in a more classic sense. “One was a nude, a Venus in a Caribbean sea. Impeccable.”

Too impeccable; it intimidated my ex. “I had to give it away,” I said, wistfully thinking about the art I couldn’t buy in Cuba the day before I visited Hemingway’s Finca Vigia.

Mark grimaced. More than a few times, he told me how much he wanted to visit Cuba, to see it before it was spoiled. Hearing him made me think of Old Havana, the stories I could tell about that place, the joy those memories bring. Mark would have listened. That’s one reason I’ll come back to Hillsborough, maybe as soon as tomorrow.

What it offers me is akin to the good energy Hemingway tapped into when he escaped to his Vinca. That was my question about why Hemingway loved the places he loved so much that he always returned to them. I’d found its answer in Hillsborough in the eyes and hearts and words and art I’d met there. Coming back was not an option. I’d return to dive into the Eno stream, its current fed by the Essigs, by Lobe and Jordy, by Isner and so many others.

Yes, I now knew why Hemingway returned to the places he always returned to once he found them. Like me, he may have been carrying the door to his artist’s life with him until he found exactly where it fit.

                                       B. Koplen 5/27/12

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