Volcano Live

“Love, my territory of kisses and volcanoes.”
Pablo Neruda, 100 Love Sonnets

I don’t usually watch these television daredevil stunt/event shows – specials where some amazing or death-defying feat is hyped to the moon and sent into your living room complete with breathless commentary and dramatic music.I don’t have anything against such antics and don’t blame folks for watching but I… I have a life. I simply can’t spare the time for the hype, padding, and endless commercial breaks.

Tonight,though, I sat down to watch “Volcano Live” where famed high wire performer Nik Wallenda walks over an active volcano with a lava pool. He chose the Masaya volcano in Nicaragua. It’s stretched out to two hours, which is too long, but I had to see the thing. I had to see it because I have been there.

When I lived in Managua in the early 1970’s it was tough to get to the vent of the Masaya volcano. It is not a tall, symmetrical, picturesque classical volcano (like the nearby Momotombo) – but rather a low, complex jumble of craters, mounds, calderas, and cooled lava. Actually, the active vent is called Santiago – one of several openings in the Masaya complex. We would have to make arrangements for a four wheel drive vehicle so we could cross the miles of extremely rough fresh hardened lava that surrounded the vent. It was black as pitch and sharp as broken glass. Most of the times we went up there the road would be washed out and the last couple miles had to cross on foot.

It was worth it, though. The Santiago vent was amazingly deep, with a bright red pool of molten lava at the bottom. Every few minutes there would be a crescendo in the roar coming from the vent and incandescent lava bombs would come shooting out, arcing and cooling to fall, black and solid, against the bottom of the crater. The sulfur dioxide infused steam streaming out of the vent was choking and nasty – adding another level of frightening deadly threat. At night, the entire top of the mountain would be bathed in flaming light, the crimson glow of molten rock that much brighter.

Some of my brightest memories of my high school days – almost a half century ago – are of me and my friends clambering around and exploring the rugged toxic moonscape around the active volcano.

Now, the top of the volcano is a national park and they have an improved road to the top. It’s a popular tourist destination. You should go there sometime.

Watching this crazy man walk across the vast space brings back so many memories.

A few years ago, my sister took a bunch of carousels of slides that we had taken over decades and all over the world and had them digitized onto DVDs. I dug through all those old photos (the only problem is they were all jumbled up together) and found a few of the Masaya volcano. I never had a telephoto lens and the fog was always thick so I don’t have a picture of the red lava, but it’s nice to help remember.

The photos aren’t of great quality – but I took them in 1973 or so – almost fifty years ago. That is really hard for me to wrap my head around.

The crater of Masaya Volcano taken from the rim of the active crater. It is a lot larger than this photo suggests. The molten lava is hidden in the inner crater – if you look closely you can see a bit of red. Looking at this scene on television tonight – it looks like that inner crater has expanded significantly in the decades since I took this photo.

A blurry photo (taken from a moving vehicle) of the low Masaya volcano complex taken from the highway several miles away. It shows the rugged lava plain that had to be crossed to get there.

Scrambling around on the top of Masaya volcano in the early 1970s.

Some friends of mine standing on the rim of the crater at Masaya volcano, Nicaragua.

Smoke, steam, and sulfur dioxide coming out of the volcano, Masaya, Nicaragua.

Smoke, steam, and sulfur dioxide coming out of the volcano, Masaya, Nicaragua.

Scrambling down a steep pile of volcanic ash, Masaya, Nicaragua

 

 

See Yourself Seeing

I like to use light as a material, but my medium is actually perception. I want you to sense yourself sensing – to see yourself seeing.

—-James Turrell

A long time ago(2004) , in a previous incarnation of a blog, I wrote about a trip Lee and I took to the newly opened Nasher Sculpture Center. The blog entry was eventually published in a local magazine. A highlight of the visit was my discovery of James Turrell’s work, Tending (blue).

Tending (blue)

Lee standing in Tending (blue) in 2004.

From the blog (I have quoted this twice before):

My favorite piece might have been the installation Tending (Blue) by James Turrell. We walked into a little opening lit by odd, shifting colors into the wall at the north end of the garden. The passage made a right turn and opened into a small room lined with dark stone benches. The walls on the upper half were featureless and smooth. A gray skylight lighted the whole chamber. The effect was strange and very peaceful. I liked it a lot.

Lee and I left the chamber and walked back up the garden and inside the building. We wandered downstairs and into the auditorium where a film was showing. It told the story of Raymond Nasher and his late wife, how they started out building Northpark Mall, acquired a fortune, and then became premiere collectors of modern sculpture. Mr. Nasher talked about his life, his wife, and his passion for the new sculpture center. The film then showed the construction of the center, how a handful of visionary architects and a few thousand men in hard hats converted a grimy downtown parking lot (I’ve parked there many times, put my quarters or dollar bills into a rusty numbered slot) into a thing of great value and beauty. They talked a lot of how it will be there forever. The film was fun and interesting – it really helped me appreciate the place.

On opening day Raymond Nasher said, “I put Patsy (his wife, the collector, who had passed away a couple years before) in charge of the weather today, and, as you can see, it’s beautiful.

One thing was odd, though. On the part of the film that covered opening day, Nasher and Turrell themselves went into the Tending (Blue) chamber that Lee and I had walked out of only minutes before. The benefactor and the artist sat on the benches and looked around. The skylight rectangle in the ceiling wasn’t gray like we saw it, but a deep cerulean blue.

“What’s up with that?” I asked.

“Let’s go back and check it out,” Lee said.

We hiked back down and entered the chamber again. The skylight was still gray. Something didn’t look right, though. I stood under it, looking up, trying to figure out what I was seeing and how it could change colors so dramatically. I was halfway convinced that it was a rectangle of light projected on the ceiling by some hidden apparatus (the upper walls are washed in subtle changing color from hidden computer controlled LED’s) when I was suddenly struck between the eyes with a big, cold drop of water. I wiped my face in surprise and looked down at some small pools of water at my feet.

“That’s weird, Lee,” I said, “I can’t believe it, but this roof is leaking.”

I looked back up, trying to find the telltale discoloration of a water leak, when, with a sudden shock, I realized what the hell I was actually looking at. That wasn’t a skylight, that wasn’t a projected rectangle at all, it was simply a big hole in the ceiling. I was looking directly at the sky. Once my eyes and my brain were in sync I could see the subtle variation of the clouds passing by overhead. The edges of the hole must have been cut back like razors – there was no visible frame around the opening, simply a featureless rectangle of light. It was amazing.

That’s why the rectangle looked blue in the film – it was a cloudless day. Now I want to go back. I want to go at sunset… I want to figure out how to go at dawn. The city sky at night… will it be brown? I want to sit in there during a rainstorm. I especially want to go there on that rarest of Texas days, a snowstorm.

The opening in the ceiling of the installation Tending (blue). A photograph does not do justice.

I returned to the piece many times. It became my favorite place. Then… horrors.

It was destroyed by the construction of an uber-expensive condominium tower. The controversy still rages today.

JAMES TURRELL
American, born 1943
The Light Inside
1999
Neon and ambient light

But I remained a fan of James Turrell. Especially when I found out about Roden Crater.

Imagine a hollowed out dead volcano in the desolation of Arizona filled with Turrell’s work with light. Amazing.

It is one of the things I want to visit before I die. I was losing hope, however. The idiosyncratic artist was taking forever and only a handful of people (each making tens of thousands of dollars worth of donations) were being allowed to visit. That doesn’t… and never will… include me.

But I kept watching… digitally. And today an article came across my screen. Turrell has partnered with Arizona State University to finish the project and open it up to the public. I’m stoked.

As much as I dislike the image of the isolated volcano surrounded by ugly parking lots – gift shop selling doodads and geegaws and rubber tomahawks – crowds of gawking tourists griping about the heat – tour buses idling to keep their air conditioning running disgorging their cargo wearing “I’M WITH STUPID” T-shirts into snaking queues of people staring at their phones…. All of that would be worth it if it allows one person (me) to actually visit Roden Crater.

Faster, please, I’m not going to live forever.

Now that I think about it there are three artistic creations I’ve know about for a long time and hope to live long enough to see finished.

1. When I was a little kid I read about the Crazy Horse Memorial Monument and fantasized about seeing the gigantic sculpture, probably as an old man.

Well, I don’t think I’m going to make that one – it doesn’t look like it has changed much since I was a kid. The other two, though:

2. The Sagrada Familia in Barcelona… they have picked up the pace the last couple of decades… I might make that one.

3. An now there is hope for Roden Crater. This is truly the best of all possible worlds.

A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 6 – And of Clay Are We Created, by Isabel Allende, translated by Margaret Sayers Peden

Statue on top of a crypt, Saint Louis Cemetery Number One, New Orleans

Over several years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month…. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year – In September this time… because it is September.

Today’s story, for day 6 – And of Clay Are We Created, by by Isabel Allende, translated by Margaret Sayers Peden

Read it online here:

And of Clay Are We Created by Isabel Allende, translated by Margaret Sayers Peden

First a subterranean sob rocked the cotton fields, curling them like waves of foam. Geologists had set up their seismographs weeks before and knew that the mountain had awakened again. For some time they had predicted that the heat of the eruption could detach the eternal ice from the slopes of the volcano, but no one heeded their warnings; they sounded like the tales of frightened old women. The towns in the valley went about their daily life, deaf to the moaning of the earth, until that fateful Wednesday night in November when a prolonged roar announced the end of the world, and walls of snow broke loose, rolling in an avalanche of clay, stones, and water that descended on the villages and buried them beneath unfathomable meters of telluric vomit.

—-Isabel Allende, And of Clay Are We Created

There isn’t much I can add to today’s story. Any comment would seem trivial and trite. This one is the real deal. Just read it.

Interview with Isabel Allende:

Q. Can you elaborate on the idea of writing fiction—of telling a truth, of telling lies, of uncovering some kind of reality? Can you also talk about how these ideas might work together or against one another?

A. The first lie of fiction is that the author gives some order to the chaos of life: chronological order, or whatever order the author chooses. As a writer, you select some part of a whole. You decide that those things are important and the rest is not. And you write about those things from your perspective. Life is not that way. Everything happens simultaneously, in a chaotic way, and you don’t make choices. You are not the boss; life is the boss. So when you accept as a writer that fiction is lying, then you become free. You can do anything. Then you start walking in circles. The larger the circle, the more truth you can get. The wider the horizon—the more you walk, the more you linger over everything—the better chance you have of finding particles of truth.

Q. Where do you get your inspiration?

A. I am a good listener and a story hunter. Everybody has a story and all stories are interesting if they are told in the right tone. I read newspapers, and small stories buried deep within the paper can inspire a novel.

Q. How does inspiration work?

A. I spend ten, twelve hours a day alone in a room writing. I don’t talk to anybody. I don’t answer the telephone. I’m just a medium or an instrument of something that is happening beyond me, voices that talk through me. I’m creating a world that is fiction but that doesn’t belong to me. I’m not God; I’m just an instrument. And in that long, very patient daily exercise of writing I have discovered a lot about myself and about life. I have learned. I’m not conscious of what I’m writing. It’s a strange process—as if by this lying-in-fiction you discover little things that are true about yourself, about life, about people, about how the world works.

—-Isabel Allende, from her website

The land of lakes, volcanoes, and sun. A painting I bought on my last trip to Nicaragua.