Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas

Thorpes together again, at last.

Actually, yesterday we had the big Melcherts Christmas dinner at our place. What weather, for a Christmas Eve! We not only offered sparkling Burgundy (bought in a Shell station in Bourgogne) on the deck, but we had to put up our big Italian umbrella to keep at bay the hot sun!

Trad dinner of turkey with all trimmings, plenty of Pinot Noir, and lots of conversation. A few songs by the whole gang (Veni, Veni, Emmanuelle) and nephew Galen joined up with my brothers for Bach piece in Jay's office.

God, I'm exhaustipated! Great to have Evan and Ariel around us, again. Much laughter and crazy gossip, all that youthful energy. Today, Christmas, it rained. Just to remind us all that this is not Bali.

Monday, December 12, 2005

What I Read at my Mother's Memorial Gathering

Mary Ann Melchert was a great explorer. As most of us know, she was born into travel and rarely passed up a chance to go somewhere new. Like any seasoned traveler, she exuded confidence, spirit of adventure, flexibility and organizational skills. She could pick up and go anywhere at the drop of a hat.

She started her travels in a time and place that don’t exist anymore. There is no going back to the world of the British Raj, nor to a third world Japan newly released from occupation. I did not know the significance of my mother’s rootlessness until she gave me a copy of a novelist’s memoirs, Penelope Lively’s Oleander, Jacaranda, about the writer’s own attempt to revisit a childhood home in Egypt. Reading this book, I understood immediately my mom’s lack of a homeland, and that she was always more or less on the road. The book was her way of telling me who she was, where she was from, and what my own children were faced with, growing up in British Hong Kong. After I read the book, my mom told me that when she meets someone who is similarly displaced from their ethnic motherland, she feels instant kinship, in her own words, “It doesn’t matter where they are from, where they were raised, but every time, it’s as if I’ve found my long lost best friend.” This may answer why my mom was so close to the Salvadoran lady who manned the phone at the Honda repair shop, or with birds fallen from their nests, and with any number of displaced people.

Her language abilities were amazing. I saw her winning a heated, rapid-fire argument, in French, with a Geneva hotelier; singing about rice paddies in Tagalog, and charming a Carabiniero directing traffic in Rome.

Travel literature, including maps, was of particular interest to my mother. She had every AAA map to northern California’s regions and cities, just in the way that she had well-worn, self-annotated maps of Istanbul and Rome (view here, a Caravaggio here). She could lead a friend through Rome and take in all the Borromini churches and the best gelateria in one fascinating morning stroll. On the road, she’d have her own exhaustive diary going, plastered colorfully with wine labels, calling cards, and cut up postcards; but she’d also have, packed next to maps and a guide book, something appropriately atmospheric like Washington Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra (for Spain) or Marguerite Duras’ The Lover (for Southeast Asia).

Actually, she was a master at packing, and she loved to reminisce about both packing disasters (her family’s overturned luggage cart in a busy Calcutta road) and packing successes (me as a newborn sleeping in a crate on the floorboards of the Oldsmobile, my brothers’ tricycles on the roof, our great move to California). She was always discovering lightweight suitcases or ingenious pocketbooks, and gave these freely to traveling family and friends.

With the same passion that some women have for getting their hands on the big fall issue of Vogue magazine, Mary Ann treasured the large New York Times annual listing of cargo ships which take on a small number of paying passengers, listed with ports of call for the coming year.

She had extraordinary respect and affection for train conductors, taxi drivers, and travel agents. She once told me of the taxi driver in Chicago in about 1950, who was nice enough to take her suitcase up a flight of stairs. He gave her a tip on the proper handling of a knife or dagger, in case of self defense. (Not like this, but like this; you’ll have more control and maneuverability).

And she knew everything about her driving instructor, a young guy moonlighting in a ragtime band that just got a Europe gig. After her last driving lesson, I watched jealously as she treated him, at our kitchen table, to a succession of fresh pancakes, with the bottle of real maple syrup.

She didn’t learn to drive until she was about forty, but she took to it like a London cabbie, and she’d often say she’d been a truck driver in a past life. She knew which lanes to avoid on the Bay Bridge, and how to hit the green lights on Telegraph.

One morning when I had just stepped off a plane and was driving my rental car to her house, I spotted her in her own little blue Honda, turning right onto the street off which I was turning LEFT. She didn’t see my wave or pay attention to my toot-toot, so, without a house key, I figured I’d just follow her to her destination. What ensued was a circuitous chase through the streets of Berkeley. Was I out of my mind, trying to keep up with her? The Little Old Lady from Pasadena had nothing on her. She avoided streets with 4-way stops and those maddening Berkeley concrete road blocks like a Grand Prix champion. I was sure that she’d taken me for a masher, and that she was trying to shake me. But when we came to a stop near the Berkeley Bowl, and I stumbled out of my car ready with apologies, she greeted me with a cheery, “Hey! Greetings! I was not expecting you until supper time!”

Make no mistake, though, she knew the rules of the road and was a smart and careful driver. She respected alternate merging and rights-of-way. She never, ever, used her horn, even when stuck behind an inconsiderate driver who wouldn’t move into the intersection to make a left turn on a green light. “Oh, get your bucket up there” my mom would say.

She told me, once, about ten years ago, that if fate would require it, she would be most content to be “one of those women who has to live in her car.” I think, actually, that the idea delighted her. In a way, she did live in her car. She could be comfortable wherever she went, something more out of familiarity with travel than from mere domesticity. She groaned amicably if she ever had to tell someone her zodiac sign: “Taurus, the domestic beast.” I am quite certain that her hostessing abilities were not borne of a penchant for the domestic, but rather, she knew so well all of the things that a traveler needs, and, in pure and simple kinship, she happily provided them: a hot meal, a comfortable bed, an appreciation of unexpected beauty, and amiable companionship. All her life, she looked after her fellow travelers. She’s on her way, again, now, a smiling face skipping down a long road.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Mary Ann Melchert: SF Chronicle Article

Mary Ann Melchert -- collage artist, wife of
famed ceramist

Nanette Asimov, Chronicle Staff Writer

A memorial will be held Dec. 11 for
Mary Ann Melchert, who, as wife of
ceramics virtuoso Jim Melchert,
came to know and host some of the
world's most celebrated artists.
Mrs. Melchert died Nov. 13 in
Oakland after a long illness. She
was 78.

"She was a tremendously kind and gentle person," said Harry
Parker, director of the de Young Museum in San Francisco. "She
was a great hostess, cook, and a lovely person in every way.
Totally without pretension and artifice."

Although Mrs. Melchert did not share the fame of her husband,
whose work resides in some of the world's great museums, friends
knew the two as a team.

"They seemed inseparable," said Renny Pritikin, director of the
Nelson Gallery at UC Davis. "They finished each other's
sentences. And they took care of each other."

Pritikin told about a gift he received last year from Jim Melchert,
who had created a ceramic piece for him, about 15 inches square.
It came in a spectacular drawstring bag made of small, rectangular
shapes of cloth, each a different shade of blue.
Mrs. Melchert had made the bag, and her husband's piece fit
perfectly within.

"It was a perfect metaphor," Pritikin said, who hung the piece in his
home -- and the bag right next to it.

"She was the archetypal woman behind the man who made it all
possible," he said.

When Jim Melchert was director of the National Endowment for
the Arts, Visual Art Program, from 1976 to 1980, Mrs. Melchert
brought the art world of Washington, D.C., into their home.
It was she who hosted the artists of Rome a few years later, when
her husband became director of the American Academy of Rome
from 1982 to 1986.

Mrs. Melchert was also an accomplished collage artist. She
enjoyed designing her own Christmas cards, and her yearly
mailings to friends topped 1,100, recalled her husband in a written
account of her life.

Born Mary Ann Hostetler in Illinois in 1927 to Mennonite
missionaries, she and her family soon moved to India.
She attended Mount Hermon boarding school in Darjeeling, taking
its top academic award for girls when she graduated in 1944.
Mrs. Melchert earned a bachelor's degree in sociology in 1948 from
Goshen College in Indiana, where she studied German, Greek and
theology. She intended to follow in her parents' footsteps and went
to Japan to prepare for missionary work.

Jim Melchert happened to be there, too. In a 1991 interview with the
Smithsonian Institution, he recalled their meeting:
"Mary Ann had a song book in which there was a Thomas Morley ...
song for two voices. She liked to sing, but she never found anybody
to do the other part. And I could sight read well, so I provided the
second voice, and we spent a lot of our first month together just
going off and singing, and later climbed Mount Fuji together that

The couple married in 1954 in Tokyo, and they returned to the
United States two years later with two children.
The family moved to the Bay Area in 1959. Mrs. Melchert studied
French at UC Berkeley and earned a teaching certificate. She
taught at Roosevelt Junior High in Oakland in 1972 and 1973.

In addition to her husband, Mrs. Melchert is survived by a brother,
John Jay Hostetler of Green Valley, Ariz.; a sister, Lois Young-
Bjerkestrand of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho; her children Christopher
Melchert of Oxford, England, David Seth Melchert of Oakland and
Renee Melchert Thorpe of Bali, Indonesia; and five grandchildren.

The memorial will be at 3 p.m. Dec. 11 at St. John's Presbyterian
Church and Center, 2727 College Ave., Berkeley.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Merry Old Crappy Weather

Jay and I are in Merrie Aulde Englande right now. While we are about to enjoy an American Thanksgiving dinner in Oxford, I did get in to London the other day. Nice Rousseau show at the Tate Modern, but highlight for me was going to Harrod's. All of Piccadilly was lit up beautifully... Fortnum and Mason's windows also a delight, with vignettes from A Christmas Carol. So disappointing that all of the Plum Puddings use hydrogenated oils... I have tried to give them up since I saw Ariel's documentary on the subject! Anyway, I broke down and bought a pudd' at Fortnum and Mason's, but at Harrod's I got almost a kilo of all the Syrian desserts that we had with Christoph and Diane when we visited them in Damascus. Such a treat to eat after dinner last night!

Big fun the other night when Jay and I went to Christchurch College (known to the Harry Potter movie going world as Hogwart's Academy) for Evensong. Just lovely cathedral and the choir's singing was bright and clear in between the old walls.

Afterwards, we showed up for dinner at Pembroke. If Christoph wanted to, he could eat dinner there every night, but spouses are not allowed (how do you like that... any other guest is welcome).

The whole event was amazing. Talk about tradition! We gather in the Faculty Common Room (looks like a gussied up version of Pat's ballroom) for either orange juice or dry sherry. Chit chat or read the paper, tut-tut; all very cordial and British.

Then a senior faculty makes the first move and we all shuffle in pecking order into the college dining hall, lit like a Rembrandt painting. The students are already inside, seated in long refectory tables, sans food, conversing away like kids in any college dining hall. We find seats on our own raised table at the far end, and Christoph made sure that I was in a position to face the entire hall of students. Crack! goes a gavel hit by the senior prof at the head of the table and everyone falls silent for the prayer. Then it's chow time. I don't recall it, but I imagine that the students received their meals family style at the tables. But elegrantly tassled pink menus on our dais showed the three courses we were in for... white fish with tapenade (served with a lovely German white) followed by venison with cranberry sauce, glace potatoes, and three vegetables (served with a nice Cabernet), and then strawberries & pineapple Romanoff. Well, that was divine!

God knows what glop the students had to ingest, and I did indeed feel amongst the privileged. Say what he will about the needy coffers of noble little Pembroke, Christoph gets a nice perk on the meals. We cracked the gavel again to begin our parade past the students, who all had had to wait for us to finish before they could leave... but off we went to a private hall where lunch is usually served to the faculty. By night, more baroque candlelight, and four decanters of after dinner drinkies. I tried the port this time, and there was fruit and little packaged Pembroke Chocolates, too. Every night these guys can eat this way; it was astonishing. They finished by passing around the snuff box, which I could not resist. It does clear out the sinuses, but it's a tobacco product and you definitely feel the nicotine jolt. Well, that's not the end of dinner, because we finished up at the common room with coffee (or choice of brandy) or sparkling water. Hoo-boy!

It rained hard for 15 minutes as I wrote this email, but now it's brightening outside. A wonderfully fragrant turkey is roasting away in the oven and we will be eating in an hour. So nice to be in from the cold.

Friday, November 18, 2005

In Memorium: Mary Ann Melchert

Mary Ann Melchert, my mother and the wife of my dad, Bay Area artist James “Jim” Melchert, passed away November 13 after a long illness. Her life is distinguished by extensive travels and her energetic commitment to a loving and secure domestic life for her husband and children.

She was born May 10, 1927, in Pontiac, Illinois, to Reverend S. Jay Hostetler and Ida Miller.

At an early age, Mary Ann moved with her family to Madhya Pradesh, India. Her parents served as Mennonite missionaries in a large network which included schools and a leper hospital. Living in the rural mission station during the winter, Mary Ann and her brother and sister boarded at the Mount Hermon School in Darjeeling. She visited the U.S. for one year, at age nine, and returned to India, her parents then starting a mission near Bihar. She graduated from school in 1944, with Mount Hermon’s top academic award for girl students. Her parents’ work interrupted by the war, the family sailed from Bombay aboard a troop transport ship, zigzagging to avoid being torpedoed, down to Melbourne, across to the Panama Canal, and landing in Boston.

Enthusiastically delving into German, Greek, and Theology at Goshen College in Indiana, Mary Ann received a BA in Sociology in 1948. I know she did some post grad work at Eastern Mennonite College, probably in Theology, but she did not get another degree. Three years later, after teaching first grade in Gary, Indiana, she went to Japan to do mission work, starting with language school. In the summer of 1953 she met Jim, who shared her love of singing. Their first date was an ill-prepared climb up Mt. Fuji, in which they had to spend a cold, foggy night before summiting. They were married in 1954 in Tokyo and had their first two children (Christoph 1955 and Davy 1956) while Jim was teaching at the Tohoku Gakuin Schools in Sendai. They returned by ship to the U.S. in 1956, where Jim worked to receive his Master of Fine Arts Degree at the University of Chicago.

Shortly after I was born, Mary Ann and Jim moved to the Bay Area in 1959, following Peter Voulkos, who was shaping a revolution in ceramic sculpture. Jim continued graduate work at UC Berkeley and eventually made his mark there as a popular professor of Art. Life at the Melchert home in Oakland was lively, regularly enhanced by visits from artists and students, with Mary Ann as their energetic and caring hostess. At Berkeley, she studied French and Japanese and received a California Teaching Certificate. She taught remedial reading at Roosevelt Junior High in Oakland in 1972 through 1973. She had a passion for quilting, sewing, and collage, and many of the latter were shown at the San Francisco Art Institute in 1981. She trained in the IRS to become a taxpayer service representative, answering taxpayer's questions phoned in to an 800 number. She stayed in that job for only a few years due to my dad's next move.

Jim’s postings as Visual Arts Director at the National Endowment of the Arts in Washington, D.C. (1976-1980) and Director of the American Academy in Rome (1982-1986) increased Mary Ann’s role as an official hostess. While learning Italian and exploring the region, she also organized the frequent dinners and public events at the Academy’s Villa Aurelia, for a time employing San Francisco chef Deborah Madison. She began keeping travel diaries of trips to other Italian cities, to Tunis, to France, and elsewhere in the Mediterranean. This practice would influence me when I went with her to India in about 1992 and I started my own collaged travel diaries.

Amidst her love of literature and biographies, Mary Ann regularly read several newspapers, and, a resolute pacifist, was outraged by injustices of all kinds. She touched the lives of many: not the least amongst them Jim’s students and colleagues, political leaders and activists, visiting luminaries, and her large extended family. She was capable of great kindnesses, sometimes caring for abandoned animals and injured birds. She is survived by her husband Jim, her brother John Jay Hostetler of Green Valley, Arizona, her sister Lois Young-Bjerkestrand of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, children Christoph Melchert of Oxford, England, David Seth Melchert of Oakland, and RenĂ©e Melchert Thorpe of Bali, Indonesia, and five grandchildren.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Tucson MOCA hours of operation

Museum of Contermpoary Art- Tucson
191 East Toole Avenue, Tucson AZ 85701 Tel: 1 520 6245019E-mail: www.moca-tucson.orgHours: Tuesday - Sunday 12pm - 5pm, Third Thursdays 12pm - 8pm

Unfortunately the museum's website does not appear to be up and running with flying colors, so we will all have to telephone the museum to find out if the show is still on.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

A Love of Ruin

Just in from the Tucson Museum of Art Biennial, but I must warn my readers: I left my notes in a suitcase. Many names and titles are sadly missing, but I will fill those in at a later date.

The major impression: Very interesting to see a thread running through the best works: a fascination with clean, dry death and a kind of crisp aging. This is the most site-specific biennial I've ever witnessed. On a museum map, I jotted down concepts like document, past, ageing, relic, death, and decripitude.

This being the Sonoran desert, there is a very real sense of dessication everywhere you go. Leave something out and it doesn't exactly rot (California forests) or turn to mold (New Jersey farms) or get eaten (Bali alleyways). The deterioration of things in southern Arizona is slowed by the dry climate. Compared to other places I know, it takes a little longer for objects to rust around here, and there isn't the moist devouring process of rains, insects, and bacteria.

So it may really be of no surprise that the works in the Tucson Biennial would exude dryness, a crisply preserved PAST, and unsullied ...may I venture STERILE... death.

Dust, dead horses, gravesites and the human mark are shown in various media but all in suspended decay. Just like a dry horse skeleton one might come upon in the desert.

The desert itself is a kind of display case if not merely a pedestal. Those hiking in the desert are treated to remains of all kinds, suspended in the heat and dryness, offering a kind of dry beachcombing. Picking one's way thru the Tucson Biennial was like that!

The massive photo portrait of gleeful, wrinkled retirees by their suburban swimming pool (water nearly unseen) was one captivating work exemplifying this sense of dessication. It was not just a parody of the life-giving desert oasis, but it was a glorification of preservation by drying.

There was an interactive piece, possibly by Lucy Petrovich, quite ambitiously employing 3D glasses and a joystick type of control, which leads the viewer through a graveyard. It's quite fun to virtually move through a tree or go along a brick wall, but the rigid white crosses and seemingly plastic flowers were perpetual reminders of the site's purpose. Never realistic in terms of texture or rendering, the graphics made me feel like I was in another dimension, a kind of half life. Is this what the dead see? In line with resident retirees and the desert's radioactive materials storage areas, I was struck with a sense of the desert being used for the purpose of storing death itself.

But therein lies also the twist of artificial landscape, which is more easily noticed in a place like Tucson than in other cities. The desert is massive, impossible to ignore. Whether you drive or fly into Tucson, you are fully aware of the forbidding natural landscape, and of its almost miraculous human civilization. Arizona has some of the world's most artificial habitations. Lawns and pools are changing Phoenix' climate, and threaten to do the same to Tucson. Artists like the photographer above and Petrovich understand this sense of the artificial.

Artists who chose to portray bodies almost always went for artifice, in either the sense of preservation or depersonalization. I noted to myself that Rembrandt Quiballo's work impressed me, but I am not sure if he is the artist whose photo representations of the body as image only, without spirit or life, was a highlight in my tour of the exhibit. I think these were two different artists, for Quiballo, it seems, works in oils. Would that I remembered the name of the other artist!

Recording dust balls was the subject of one photographic piece, also interactive (the images were displayed in book form, so that the viewers can turn pages). Again, an intimate if not fully loving presentation of the dried up dregs of a place (in this case, the museum galleries themselves).

Do we map things just to claim them or to preserve them? Man has charted, mapped, cataloged, and labeled this earth to an obsessive extent. Hard to tell if the hard-ass Arizona claim staker has a sense of humor about this, but many of the artists took a light-hearted glimpse at the matter.

Lora Alaniz gave a memorable cart-ography video, footage of a shopping cart that sometimes anthropomorphed as a suffering, wandering individual. Sometimes the subject just seemed to be a tool under punishing use, grinding along in the aching physical realm. Dig, Tucson has plenty of derelict types because it's cheap to live there. But this wonderful piece made me conceptualize territory, a huge issue in Arizonans powerful and ordinary. Staking claims, mapping, blazing trails, putting on a label... it's pure WEST sensibility. Kay Emig has a piece called Four East Mesa Trailheads that blew me away. I noted "seed beads" next to her name, and I do recall an amazing work that used this vernacular medium to excellent effect. Also noteworthy: Peter Happel Christian's Brief Notes on Existence and Will Sanders, who understands depth.

Out here in the desert, it's a game of the dichotomies of ruin and preservation, life and death, unclaimed and charted, the past and the now. This brilliant collection speaks to these matters, reads the desert, charts a slow passage of time... in soft, clear voices as plain as a dry creek bed.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Get Back, Jojo!

I've been doing the famous Beatles' lyrics backwards... I've left California grass for Tucson, Arizona.

Am ensconced in a house that can only be called gorgeous. ...Using same meaning as when style guru Made Wijaya says, Bali has the world's most gorgeous culture. More on that in a moment.

Finally managed, in this crazed real estate market, to find two properties which have a decent cash flow on rentals. One is a bit of a fixer-upper and the other is nearly perfect as-is. But it took me four months to find these and a few hard lessons in the Arizona market, to know to jump, puma-style, on these offers. More on those when I close escrow.

For the moment, though, I have moved out of the usual Ramada circuit, and moved into the Foothills home of artist and arts educator Barbara Rogers. Barbara is a gracious hostess and hardworking painter. She has a great circle of friends, some of whom I met at her place at a party on Saturday night. Kimberly Lund is moving to the middle east to teach painting, and we all celebrated her send-off. Fantastic middle eastern dishes came from myriad guests, and Barbara's secretary belly danced her way around the room like a juicy tinkerbell. What a night! Artists, bassists, curators, DA's, educators, the creme de la creme.

Meanwhile, I line up insurance quotes and edit the perfect commercial lease, starting my day with a stroll through Desert Shadows in blissfully cool weather (all the Tucsonians can't believe the temperatures and sprinkles of afternoon rain). Bunny rabbits with perfect white tails and delightfully tall ears scatter across Barbara's driveway. Lizards and quail families dash by like cartoon characters. The neighbor's gardening detritus has enough agave pups to start a new hedgerow in Montara. Yes, I thought ahead and brought an extra suitcase.

Now, about that word gorgeous. What is different about gorgeous, compared with beautiful, pretty, and handsome?

Gorgeous is a type of beautiful, but it denotes boldness and drama. Pretty is a type of beautiful that is plainer, more delicate, and closer to a natural, unembellished beauty. Handsome is about quality and good lines and simplicity; a beauty that is not usuallyh natural but is mindful of the limits of interference. Gorgeous is the aesthetics of interference, of clashes, of extremes. Barbara's house is all about gorgeousness. Her gold and richly layered paintings are everywhere. And if these are the ones that didn't sell in galleries, then what must those in other homes and museums look like?

Barbara's home is a showcase for her many collections... platform shoes are displayed like works of art, an oak table is a repository of desert artifacts, and museum-quality Buddhas stand watch over everything. There are lush curtains, oversize plants, massive armoires, and the lustre of metal, here and there, shining out from under a tiny layer of perfect tarnish. There are curves, ovals, flaws, and ridges. A red bathroom, a bronze bedspread, and a black lacquered grand piano (which got a workout Saturday night).

It's all so gorgeous.

adopt your own virtual pet!

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The ONLY Internet Cafe in Phoenix

It seems that greater Phoenix made the leap from Stone Age to WiFi without anything in between. Oh, to find an internet cafe in this valley!

Well, thanks to some recent writer's conference at ASU (I love writers, they WRITE, for God's sake), there was an obscure posting of internet places near the campus. Two of the places were those kind of mom-and-pop Kinko's type outfits (Alphagraphics... apparently gone bust because I never found either shop), and the other was eJoy Cafe.

eJoy Cafe sits on Seventh Street at Mill, just opposite the big old Borders Books in Tempe.

It is loaded with terminals in a cool, high-tech setting (but comfortable and the coffee is good). There's a room in the back filled with kids on terminals under black light... is that the x-rated area? I don't know, but I am satisfied with the connections and refreshments, and I always have enough space to put my big binders at easy reach while I work on real estate deals.

eJoy, you saved Phoenix for laptop-deprived moi!

And did you know that, even though Tempe is the most WIRED town in Phoenix, no one else (not Scottsdale, not Phoenix) so far offers the humble user a terminal for rent. I mean, Tempe could have been the ones to assume we all have a laptop and take a snobbish attitude, but NO, they went the extra mile (or, at least the Asian guy who runs this joint went the extra mile) to be nice to the laptopless ones.

Thanks, eJoy!

Monday, July 04, 2005

Extreme Normal

I happened upon Never Been Thawed in, of all places, Tempe Arizona, in May of this year.

I cannot help but associate Tempe with the LDS Church, because in 1976 I went on a school chorale tour which took many of us into the Tempe homes of Mormon student hosts. It was an interesting experience for our little group of hippies from Berkeley. With two other girls, I stayed one night in the home of a girl our age, also in her Tempe high school choir, who looked like she was modeling her looks on Farrah Fawcett's. Tempe was flat, white bread suburbia. We ate dinner at Pizza and Pipes. Tempe became, in my mind, synonymous with Middle American tastes and culture.

That experience actually threads quite well into the realm of Never Been Thawed, which I saw in a cute little art house theatre (spiffiest, cleanest art house between the Hudson and LA) in downtown Tempe. NBT is about the far reaches of suburban dweebiness. It identifies the strange moment when white bread-ism becomes so intense in its own right that it is in itself radical. The characters are fanatics for FROZEN MEALS and they collect them the way my brother did comic books. There are many tasty subplots and plenty of laughs along the way. (Cast/crew candid shot -- hey, their damn website uses Flash, so I can't kife photos)... give 'em a visit at .

Oh, and about Tempe? This is the most mind-blowingly clean town I have ever visited. For having the big Arizona State University right there like a battleship in dry dock, Tempe manages to be cute, fun, and friendly. We had steak at Monti's historical adobe hacienda, listened to a reggae concert in the park, and took in NBT, which, incidentally, was followed by a concert given by the director and his band, The Christers. The appearing cast members' in-character demeanor was utterly brilliant, to the point that audience members clearly did not totally believe we were seeing actors.

Hope you'll get to see this wacky film!

Tell the Cook!

That soup recipe looks great. Mental note to self. Pardon me. No one reads this blog, anyway.

Inflight Hell

Visit by clicking:
Passenger in seat 29E

This hilarious file is making the email rounds, and for good reason.

It must have been leaked from some employee of the airline, a soul with a sense of humor greater than his corporate devotion.

I must say, I do sympathize with the poor chap in the ill-conceived seat 29E, BUT he's complaining about a -what- 3 hour flight between Houston and San Diego? Try the EWR-SIN sixteen hour backpacker and expat marathon! Not that I've been condemned to sit next to the toilet on that record-breaking astronaut run, but if I didn't love this writer, I'd say, LIVE with it, pal! Anyway, a fabulous piece of comic writing.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Flash Craig: the Google Biography

Never mind the endlessly fascinating things
that come up when you google your own name, just try finding a friend.

Now, I'm trying to get info on Flash Craig, christened Francis P Craig, known to many as Frank. Flash Craig on google just gets me snared into a lot of software, but to google Frank Craig is to hit a vein of exquisite gems. My husband's lifelong pal Frank Craig apparently led an amazing life. For one, the good doctor himself founded a hospital treating indigent tubercular men:

A truly dedicated caregiver, the man contracted the disease some years later.
Just look at this mega hospital that bears his name today, somewhere in Colorado...

I always knew that Frank had a talent for a fine technical artistry, but look at this illustration attributed to him:

Perhaps the painting was a bit of a break from his long boxing career. Frank "The Harlem Coffee Cooler" Craig had a distinguished run as a pugilist, first in America and then in Britain. A souvenir silk just sold at auction for $2.5K!
Must've really sustained some injuries, because the military didn't want him later on. He was 4F'd out of WWII:

Looking good, there, Flash!
That shot was snapped in pre-mohawk days, I guess.

And if it wasn't amazing enough to find out that Flash was a saintly Medical Doctor, I also stumbled upon this phrase: Dr Frank Craig, CEO of Smart Holograms. Dude, all this time multi-tasking like a fiend.

Look, you had me when you built the movie theatre in your backyard. We loved you for rewiring the Jag. We admire your dutiful care of your ailing dad.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Selling Organs on eBay Didn't Work

Tried to sell two antique reed organs on eBay and it just didn't fly. Dozens of "watchers" (people who tag the item on their own eBay personalized pages for observation), one bidder, but no takers.

Hey, I'm sorry if you expected this entry to be about body parts, but I LOVE that title and I couldn't pass it up! Since the Supreme Court doesn't recognize me as a bona fide journalist, I can't be accused of yellow journalism.

Grey day on the coast of Northern California, here. Paying bills before I head home to the jungle.

Saw Rize last night at the world's foggiest movie theatre, the Century 21 Daly City. Four times, I had to actually restrain my uncoordinated white ass from jumping up from my seat and dancing. It was the most infectious film about dance, EVER! An incredible visual spectacle, a heart-wrenching story, the best screen entertainment this summer!

Tommy the Clown and Larry:

Friday, June 24, 2005

Willy Wonka Too Creepy

Am I the only person who thinks Johnny Depp's portrayal of Willy Wonka is creepy? I think they've got false teeth on top of Depp's chompers, and, with his smooth skin and Dutch Boy haircut, the look is just plain sinister. What'd the makeup department do to Depp?

The overwrought beauty treatment reminded me of...

Michael Jackson.

Look, I know my man Michael just got acquitted from the accusations of a manipulative, dishonest southern California mom, but, let's face it, he looks kinda creepy and he spends way too much time playing with kids.

In previews currently showing in cinemas here in the States, Willy Wonka is seen doing some stuff that no one else I know does. Except Michael Jackson. Neverland? The Chocolate Factory, babe!

You saw it here first, but I have a feeling there are others who share my thoughts....

Thursday, March 10, 2005

She's ba-aaack

I'd love to put a humorous spin on reasons why I have been such a dilletante blogger.

Fact is, it is not easy to keep up with a blog when I don't own a laptop and I am travelling back and forth.

I had several interesting little incidents and blog-worthy destinations since I left Bali in October, but the moment I'd survived one bizarre battle, I was already involved in the next. I have barely even written emails. Christmas cards? Don't make me laugh! Valentine missives? HAH! This writer has put into her novel exactly seven new pages. Life's just too filled with stuff to do and things to see, for me to update the blog in a timely manner.

In brief:

I returned to America in time to discover that all of my possessions being stored next door in the garage ...were covered in mold and mildew. Nonstop bleaching in the driveway.

Contractor Bill did a bang-up job on Architect Patricia's house. He finished in time (juuuust in time) for the Melchert Family (and Moss-covered Three-handled Gredunza) to descend upon the Jay n Renee campsite for Thanksgiving dinner. I mean, I was still moving furniture into the new house the night before Thanksgiving.

Bought a car to replace my cherry-cherry 1989 Saab Turbo convertible that was stolen in September, its California palm tree and sunset vanity plates reading "OR BALI" gone with the professional thief who did the dirty deed. New car is delightfully baddass black 97 Chrysler Sebring convertible, found in a San Jose used car lot. Vehicle ID check revealed it had a long history as a leased vehicle, explaining its amazingly good mechanical shape. Now, I never, ever, park this baby without locking the Club anti-theft device to the steering wheel. San Jose's autumn has never been so beautiful. Leaves on the trees rivalling those of the east coast. Amidst such color, we are delighted to make the drive to Sunnyvale as we shorten our list of viable used cars.

Thanksgiving was awesome; a Melchert quorum save for Oxford-based big bro Christoph. What did we have... fourteen people at the two Thorpe tables? Our college kids opted for a kids' table and an adult table. Guess which table had more laughs. But our old fogey table got the Green and Red label Napa Zinfandel ( or just search for it on and the Nautilus New Zealand Pinot Noir... God, how I love Beverages and More for their discount prices. I am so sick and tired of buying a bottle of Yellow Tail Shiraz at Bali's Delta Dewata Supermarket for about three times the price Cost Plus advertises back in the States. America's a fine place to shop!

My parents stopped by the very next day for a little visit, bringing grandson Galen. We all went out for Mexican food and Regnier told his funny story of why his father knows The Birds scene-by-scene, but has never heard a word of its dialog.

Brief respite before Christmas, going back up to my ears in dust and bleach, readying the house for another assault of family. I do manage to sneak up to the Sierras for a day of skiing via the Bay Area Ski Bus to Sugarbowl. Soggy snow (nine feet of it) makes for a day of green-rated slopes, even for many of the seasoned veterans. I felt like a klutz, but so did everyone else, it turns out. Homey ski lodge nothing like the slick and globally-savvy Mammoth ski area or the New Yorker infested Wyndham in the Catskills. I really realized how spoiled I was, remembering the last place I'd skiied: Vail... in its powdery magnificence. Bleary-eyed, I manage to get home and collapse.

Jay met up with me in New York, and we had a low key Christmas at Heathcote, the Cooperstown home of his sister and a perrennial Thorpe holiday hangout. No Christmas Eve party. No William Spain. But we managed. News of the Indian Ocean / Aceh tsunami hit me as I sat in the parking lot of the Catholic church on Boxing Day, waiting to pick up Dr. Thorpe and Barbara. Reports were sketchy, but when I heard that Phuket had been hit, I could only imagine our three delightful trips to that part of Thailand... PhiPhi Don, which in 1991 was little more than a crowded backpacker magnet; PhiPhi Lei, pristine one year and overfished the next... pre-Leonardo di Caprio, I might add. But enough bragging. The horrific clips of home video footage and eyewitness stories was to assault me every morning when I got back to California and CNN.

We had a nice Melchert Christmas celebration on December 30, again at the "green house" by the sea. Jay will never let me forget my panic in the middle of the previous night, when I thought I was realizing that the ham I'd bought to cook for the big dinner was not indeed already smoked. Whew. All was well.

Housesitter and blogger extraordinaire Renee Blodgett moved in to house sit on about January 2. Then I left on January 4. Seven hectic weeks in Bali, but, in the end, magical for me and Jay in the knowledge that our time there, together, is so precious.

Back to New Jersey with a cold shock at the end of February, just in time for several inches of snow to descend upon the Navasink peninsula or whatever you call it.

Great visit with son Evan at Princeton. Of course, he is in his senior year, which is the most stressful time for kids at that particular Ivy League institute. He was not exactly his jolly old self. Will write about the lectures and alumni events I went to (later) but highlight was surely the two hockey games... the semi final victory over Penn and Princeton club team's brilliant come-from-behind defeat of Staten Island's scary-looking Wagner College Seahawks. Now there's a school that takes its hockey a little too seriously.

One more big storm, leaving ten gorgeous inches of snow in coastal New Jersey. Flew back to San Francisco, taking a lovely overview of Mono Lake and, before I knew it, Mount Diablo... so low that I spotted my parents' house. The entire Bay Area gorgeously green after weeks of rain.

Today the weather was outstanding. Hot and sunny. My Bali-fied extremities are thawing. The badass car's top was down and I was a happy lass.

Friday, March 04, 2005

The Gates

Just wanted to say a word about Christo's installation in NYC this winter...

Yes, the color of the gates' cloth was a wonderful warm orange, evocative of monks' robes and orange fruit. It brought people out, it made people talk to each other, it jarred people from the routine.

Look at this lovely picture by an anonymous photographer. Very much captures the sense of the piece from afar. But you won't see too many photos of the suitable-for-bridges support structures. The grace and lightness of the cloth was almost negated by the rather ugly, squat supports.

From a distance, they were so inviting. Come and walk under! But once I was into the path of swaying orange, it all seemed so far above me. I could not reach the cloth, and all I saw around me were the I-beam supports. Get the idea of affixing your diamond earrings with gaffer's tape. Imagine wearing a white silk evening gown and slipping your feet into hiking boots. Ghastly.

I wanted the gates to feel like Japanese torii. Seeing the preliminary sketches, I thought that Christo's project would generate the same magic as the gates in Kyoto and elsewhere in Japan. To walk beneath a row of brilliant torii... now there's wonder, delicacy, and grace.

After an hour squinting with the gates, I got back on the train in time to hop in my car and drive to another Princeton Club Hockey game in Vineland, NJ. Did they beat Wagner College that day? I believe so.