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Trees

This man knows things. Let’s call him Alexander. Sometimes we work together, and when we do, I can safely bet that I will not get everything done on my agenda, because instead of doing the things, I will be listening to the man. And he will be telling me stories.

Once Alexander spent over an hour recounting the long and vibrant history of the shrimp trade, with tangential excursions into the seventeen species and twelve genus of this crustacean, the currents in the Sea of Japan, and shipbuilding in the late 1700’s in Portugal. Another time, he dedicated the better part of the work day talking about bee-keeping and hair styles. One of the most memorable talks was a thorough critical analysis of Bruegel’s The Battle Between Carnival and Lent. But today Alexander is telling me about something of a more personal nature: he recounts his memories of climbing trees as a child.

I imagine little Sasha clambering up and down the large and luxurious branches of trees that, in our context, would be the venerable live oaks. He’d spend his days up in the canopy, jumping from limb to limb, planning ambushes with his friends, swinging on branches, scratching skin off protruding knees, ankles and elbows. He tells me that through this exercise, he first learned to appreciate three-dimensionality. He came to be able to visualize the spaces between the branches, the entire layout of the tree, in his mind’s eye. Later, when he was a teenager and climbing trees was no longer appropriate, he dreamt about it. And at night, in his dreams, he was not holding on to the branches anymore, but flying among them, up and over and between them.

“Through my dreams, I came to know the meaning of negative space: the spaces between things, and how to navigate them.” he tells me. Dreams are personal territory, and I listen quietly, appreciative of a rare glimpse into this person’s inner life.

I imagine these negative spaces – they look like 3D images of polypeptides, captured by invisible boundaries.

“There is another instance of negative space,” I start to tell him, “that I encountered recently.” Several days prior, I accidentally came across Erik Satie’s Gnossiennes: what ethereal compositions, especially when performed thoughtfully. One rendition was played at such a slow tempo, that the pauses between the sounds took on a life of their own. The shape and feel of each silence was different, unique, deliberate. By the end of the gnossienne, it was clear that the pianist was sharing things too personal for words. And perhaps Erik Satie himself wanted us to read between the lines.

Spurred on by my own contemplation, I want to tell Alexander more about my understanding of negative space. I glance up him, and though he is nodding, as if listening, his eyes have that glazed look of recollection. He is back there, flying through the trees. So I fall silent, thinking my own thoughts, comfortable with the shape of the quiet between us.

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All photographs in this post are by Liza of JuniperSpring Photography.

In interest of historical accuracy I must admit that I missed a day in my San Diego chronicle. And also, I have not written about Days 4 and 5 and here I am already leaving again for San Diego, to spend 11 days there (no chronicling there) with my family and now both kids in tow, and to go back to Houston also with both kids. So let’s call this :The Other Days, and let that be good ‘nuff.

We arrived Wednesday night, Friday we went to Palomar but Thursday we did another monumental thing: we went to my brother Alyosha’s high school graduation. It was monumental because it was the last graduation in a prolonged series of three (mine ten years ago, Liza’s eight years ago, and now – his), but also because it marked the beginning of a new phase of our family life: a family with three grown children. The graduation was moving for me personally because I had played such a big role in caring for Alyosha in the first ten years of his life, and then was literally MIA for the next eight. Seeing him so big – an adult, reminded me that I was an adult and have been for quite some time (which still comes as a surprise to me), that, heck, my own kids were staring school soon, that life moved and that, yet again, I was looking at all of this surprised and shell-shocked. How did it happen? What happened? When? When was it all going at a steady pace, and when did it suddenly, violently shift into third gear and left me groping in the dust for my proverbial glasses?

Like any significantly older sibling, I felt proud for Alyosha – he turned out alright. As I watched him rise, and get his diploma, as we stood up and shouted, YEAH!!! You GO Alyosha!!!, as he smiled and waved at us, it was heartwarming to see him as a young man. He then went and hugged or shook hands with many of his teachers, and at this point I felt tremendous regret: these were people that have impacted his life, and I didn’t know any of them. And the hundreds of students graduating with him – he’s spent the better part of his childhood and teenage-hood with them, and I hardly knew any of them either. It was strange to think that I had no insight into such a chunk of his life. Almost none at all. The school halls and library, the gym and the cafeteria that he’ll remember for the rest of his life because he’s spent so much time there – I don’t even know how any of that looks. The biggest surprise of all – so naturally he shook the hands of his male teachers. How did he know how to do that? Who taught him? He shook hands as if he’s been practicing hand-shaking for many years.

It was a curious moment, a joyous occasion. And yes – I teared up when they sang the anthem. I am not ashamed to admit it.

Joy and jubilation!

Post graduation I think we must have gathered at the parents’ house and eaten. Yes. Liza took some pictures to prove it. Good times. Then at night we played Settlers with Dad, Mom, Liza, Sean and the Alyosha/Taylor team. Naturally Liza and Sean won first, and I think we battled it out for a while but eventually everyone won and/or headed off to sleep.

I also loved on the cat at some point...

Classic - after the graduation we had lunch. Family style.

Friday was Palomar.

Saturday my good friend Ryan came over for brunch, and we ended up having brunch, and then tea, and then lunching on the brunch left-overs, and then some more tea, all while engrossed in conversation. The whole thing lasted for a good four hours, and then he had to go, and then at some point we went to the beach and I gathered seashells while the ladies hid from the nippy wind, and then we went downtown with Mom and Dad and Vierra and I was just thrilled to not be parenting, and we walked around and stopped by an old, Hispanic-looking train station, had coffee, I was extremely bouncy and could not sit still and eventually we packed into the car and headed home.

I think actually we went to the beach on Sunday morning, and then we went to the grandparents’ house for lunch before I had to get dropped off at the airport. The lunch was unfortunately very stressful for me, because grandma was very intent only on feeding us, grandpa was very intent only on talking about war, and we were intent on having some “quality time” which we didn’t get to have because of the other competing agendas. Well, I stand corrected, grandma was intent not only on feeding us, but also on keeping grandpa from talking too much about the war. I felt irritated because of the noise, because I wanted grandma to sit and not to bustle so much, because I was afraid she might hurt herself, and because it seemed that everything revolved around food and stuffing as much of it into us as possible.

It was sad to think that our communication had boiled down to caviar on toast and Borscht. Grandpa talked about the war, Liza and I got into an argument because I mentioned the Great Patriotic War vs. WWII, and was snobby about terminology, and then we started asking grandpa about the different fronts and about how the European Front differed from the Great Patriotic War, and THAT was interesting except that he was yelling and didn’t hear us, which was upsetting.

Finally, Alyosha took me to the airport, I flew “home”, and at last, late at night, crashed into bed. Overall, it was a terrific short trip and now I am gearing up for a longer stay there. On the agenda: plans to meet with more friends, do adventurous things, visit the Getty Museum and the From El Greco to Dali exhibition at the San Diego Museum of Art, paint something, build something, eat lots of Brie and drink lots of tea.

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