Back at the Bean Runner – Haven Street Live Jazz

!!! Correction – the date is Friday February 28 !!!

What with all the recent travel and excitement, I almost forgot to mention there’s a gig coming up, just over a week away!

My jazz group Haven Street returns to The Bean Runner Cafe in Peekskill, Friday February 28 at 8 o’clock start time, $10 cover. This is one of our favorite places to play, and we always have a good time and get good crowd. Should be lots of fun, so come check it out!

Like a Wheel Within a Wheel

Now we get to the trip inside the trip, like a tunnel that you follow to a tunnel of its own. We arrived in Zaragoza late Friday night. The train station was sparsely peopled, and we wandered down, thru the concourse, up the other side to exit on the correct side. From there is was was a long pedestrian bridge arcing above a wide highway, whose reticulated walking surface made our luggage rattle out a rhythm as it rolled along. It was colder and windier here than by the seaside, very bracing. Zaragoza is in the desert and the mountains, although often strongly foggy.

The hotel was one building past the conference center. The whole neighborhood was built for some kind of Expo about twelve years ago, and it had that kind of vibe, all modernist right angles. The hotel was nice, stark yet cozy, modern and European. There were some friendly faces in the lobby, our the conference organizers and our hosts. I knew a few of them who had been to origami conventions in the states, and everyone was warm and friendly.

Next day up bright and early for breakfast. I met a few fellow folders including Robert Lang, David Brill and Jared Needle and Matt Green. More bacon and eggs and croissants and cappuccinos. Yum!

Over at the conference center I set up my exhibit. This was first international exhibit, most of ’em here had never seen my work before. I brought a box a small suitcase as carry-on luggage, about fifteen models. The idea was sort of a greatest hits collection.

The evening before our flight to Spain I went around the house and picked out my favorite models and set them on the table to see how they went together. There’s some air and space ships, a set of single-sheet polyhedra, a series of big animals and one of small animals. The big animals include my Elephant and Dragon, but they were a bit too small for the others in that series, the Oliphaunt and Moose.

So I started folding a new one of each. I ended spending most of the next day folding Dragons and Elephants, and my exhibit was the last thing I packed, just before leaving for the airport. It was totally worth it, both models turned out great. For the Elephant i found a 12″ square of scrapbook paper, mainly white with bright paint splatter design, evoking a circus. I didn’t know how well the paper would fold but it ended up being perfect for the model, not too thin, not too thick, not too soft and not too stiff. It came out quite well, nicely sculptured, and was one of my most admired models in the exhibit.

For the dragon I used so-called shiny paper from the Origami Shop, which is an excellent paper, thin an crisp, and sort of sparkly on one side. I started folding a blue dragon from a 16″ square, but once I got the base finished it was clear it would not be bit enough. I went up to a 24″ green square. Probably a 20″ square would have been perfect, but I didn’t have one. Still it worked well at that size, and was compatible with the Oliphaunt, just a slightly more ancient dragon than I had in mind.

Once my stuff was set up I took a look around. There was tons of fantastic stuff there. The exhibit space was nice, bright and well-lit, and got a good amount of traffic over the weekend, not just from the convention but from the public at large.

I knew about half the artists there. There was so much great origami, and (unlike OUSA where I see many of the same people every year) alot of it was new to me. It’s impossible to try and describe it all, you’ll have to wait for the pictures. One thing I’ll say is there was alot of interesting stuff with tessellations. I had kinda thought tessellations were pretty much played out, but here was alot of new, expressive work. One artist named Roman particularly caught my eye with a 2-d interpretation of a 4-d Torus. Wow.

The conference opened with remarks by Ilan, the conference chair. The organizers were mostly French, Spanish and Israeli. The format was much like a Monday at OUSA, with seminars and discussion, no teaching models and not alot of actual folding. Everybody there was a world-class origami artist because CFC2, a.k.a The Conference for Creators, was invitation only. It was an honor to have been invited, and It was really amazing to be among such high-level artists. I missed the first CFC, in Lyon, France in the summer of 2017 because I was ill. So making it to this one was extra special for me.

The topics included aspects of the creative process, hand vs. computer diagraming, photography and photo diagramming, spontaneous public origami exhibits, preparing papers for exhibiting, traditional handmade papers, how to social media, and connections between origami and other creative disciplines. There were also several roundtable discussions. Very inspirational.

The pacing was pretty leisurely. There was breakfast, a couple talks, coffee break, another talk or two, another break, more talks, then dinner and/or evening activities. It stretched out so dinner wasn’t until 8 or 9 o’clock. This left lots of time for socializing and hanging out. The attendees included Spaniards, French, Americans, Brits, Germans, a couple from Poland and another from Austria, a few Italians, a few Israelis, a friendly guy from Denmark, and another sharp friendly guy and from Belarus whose English was so good at first I thought he was Scottish, a lady from Switzerland, and several people from South America. Maybe seventy or eighty people total.

I re-struck relationships with people I hadn’t seen in years and made some new friends. I was happy to discover alot of people were familiar with my work and hold it in high regard. Some cited my models as points of inspiration or reference for their own work. That’s a huge compliment from artists you admire.

The French people were telling us to come the French convention next year, the Spanish said to come to the Spanish convention, and the Germans said to come to the German one. This last one sounds pretty tempting cuz it’s one of the larger conventions in Europe, and I seemed to hit it off comfortably with the Germans and Austrians. But everyone said: you gotta go to the Italian convention, it’s a great time and a huge party.

Zaragoza has a very active folding community and many of them are connected with IMOZ (Escuela Museo Origami Zaragoza), the world’s largest permanent museum for origami. Spain has it’s own origami tradition independent of Japan’s, dating back to the 7th century when paper was introduced to the Iberian Peninsula by the Moors. We took a tour there the first evening. It’s quite impressive and includes quite a few works by Yoshizawa and Erik Joisel, and a variety of other stuff, historical and modern, Spanish and international.

We walked around the old downtown for a while, to eventually arrive a restaurant for the convention banquet, which was mainly standing like a cocktail hour, as were the lunches, to promote mingling. The other nights’ dinner was at the hotel, and seated. One night Jeannie and I sat a table full of Germans and Austrians, the other was Spaniards and an Argentinean. More socializing, ham, seafood and fine red wine.

Sunday was the last day of the conference and in the evening, after the official end, were more tourist activities. We went to a place called the Tower of Water, built for the Expo. It was a funny building, a glass and scaffold skyscraper maybe twenty stories high, enclosing a large interior space in which hung a giant sculpture of a splashing water droplet frozen in time. We took an elevator up then spiraled around a continuously ramping balcony back to the lobby. The building had no current use, but at working electricity. One of our hosts had a key to get in.

We wandered thru the Expo grounds, which was broad pedestrian avenues, curvy concrete bridges, and the aforementioned cubist buildings. Parts of the complex, like the conference center (the Etopia Center for Arts and Technology) and the hotel were in active use. Some of the buildings seemed to be offices or apartments. But alot of it was just empty. Not run down or abandoned, just unused. Kinda reminded me of planet Miranda in the movie Serenity, but, you know, not all creepifying. Apparently there was a plan to convert the buildings to other purposes after the Expo, but then the housing bust happened and the money vanished. We ended up at the Aquarium, which was pretty cool. The focus was on the major rivers of the world, so they had alot of fish and reptiles that you don’t normally see.

Bit by bit, over the course of the weekend, people started to get out packs of paper and do some actual folding. I’ve been working on a Human Figure base, derived from my Astronaut, since my nephew Matthew asked me at Christmastime if I could design a Golem. So I folded lots and lots of variations, looking for expressive possibilities, and for different way to approach the neck and shoulders, which is the key to any animal model, human figures included.

Finally Sunday night was the inevitable late-night folding. A bunch of us, under the direction of one of the EMOZ curators, folded a giant corrugation, about three meters square. We didn’t get much sleep that night, but still got up before sunrise to take the train back to Barcelona and on to Montserrat.

There’s lots more happening in the origami world these days, but that will have to wait for another post.

Well I Never Been to Spain, Parts I & III

I just got back from a fantastic trip to Spain to attend an origami conference, the CFC or Conference for Creators in Zaragoza. I took Jeannie with me, and along the way we spend a few days in Barcelona, a beautiful city.

We flew out on the redeye Tuesday night and landed in Barcelona Wednesday morning. The first thing we wanted to see was the famous Basílica de la Sagrada Família designed by the architect Antoni Gaudí. It was a nice walk from our hotel.

La Sagrada Família is well nigh indescribable. It’s been under construction for over 130 years and still not finished. Giant, ambitious, architecture as high art, at once deeply traditional and fiercely, playfully radical. Completely mind blowing. I mean, we’ve seen some of great European cathedrals, and I get to whole thing with the totality of symbolism, faith and grace made stone. But this takes it to whole ‘nuther level. For one thing it’s huge. When it’s finished it will be the tallest building in the city and the tallest church in the world. The outside is a riot of sculpture and symbolism and crazy spires and multiple, conflicting styles. So busy it almost makes you queasy. Inside is a maybe the largest room I’ve ever been in, and even though there’s alot going on visually it’s minimalistic compared to the façades, grandly ordered and strangely tranquil, like being a forest of giant redwoods made of stone. I could go on but words really do not convey the experience.

We walked down to the marina district near our hotel, where lots of yachts were parked, and got our first close up look at the Mediterranean Sea. There was a sort of boardwalk there where lots of people came to jog and bike and just hang out. We watched the sun go down and then headed back to the hotel for dinner of yummy Spanish food.

Next day we got up and had breakfast in the hotel. It seems Spain is big on thinly sliced smoked ham and thick sliced meaty bacon, and also lots of fish and seafood. And I gotta say the bacon, with farm fresh eggs, is totally awesome for breakfast. Also local cheeses and of course cappuccino and croissants.

Our first destination Thursday was the Picasso Museum. On the walk over we passed thru a really cool park full of gardens and fountains and statues and a sort of grand structure like an open air art deco temple. I also noticed they have giant ducks in Spain that we don’t have at home.

The Picasso Museum itself was really cool. It’s in a old neighborhood of winding street too narrow for cars, although that doesn’t stop all of them. The building used to be some sort of old palace or mansion for some noble; parts of it are hundreds of years old and it’s been modified at least a few time over the centuries. The bottom level is full of interlocking courtyards and long, vaulted concourses. The galleries are all upstairs. Most of it was plain white walls, but one room was kept in it’s original (?) condition, so ornately rococo it looked like it belonged in Schloss Schönbrunn.

Picasso went to art school in Barcelona, and the museum has alot of his early work. He was a master of the realist style and did quite a few landscapes and portraits, and dabbled in a few different takes on surrealism before he really came into the style he’s famous for. So it was cool to see that development unfold. I also noticed in some photographs he had a crooked nose, and I wonder if his whole style grew out of an inability to be at peace with that. His antigeometric faces began with just a bit of asymmetry around the nose and eyes, and took off from there.

We wandered around the city some more, and made our way to the beach, which was not too far. I stuck my hand in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea, and Jeannie got her feet wet.

There was a tram nearby the went over the harbor and up to Montjuïc, a hill in the heart of the city and a meter higher than the Gaudi basilica. Up on top was nice views of the city and place for lunch, chicken croquets and local beer. Lots of food prepared with tomatoes too. Jeannie had a memory the the Olympic diving pool from the ’92 games was up there somewhere so we hiked around to try and find it, but didn’t know exactly were to look.

Later on, back at the beach we had dinner at at Barcelona’s idea of an American style beach bar. I had a burger that of course had bacon and fried egg on top. Jeannie got a seafood dish, a plate of fried whole prawns, heads and all. Maybe it was just the drink menu that was American style, with things like Long Island Iced Tea and Cosmopolitans.

In the evening we got on the train to take us to the origami conference in Zaragoza. It’s about 4 hours away by car, but the train goes 300 km/hr, so it’s only about an hour and half.

Monday morning were on the train again, coming back from Zaragoza, and on to a monastery called Montserrat, in the mountains outside of town. The train to Montserrat was part of the local subway system, although it was mostly above ground once it got out of the city center. At the base of the mountain we transferred to a cog railroad that took us halfway up the mountain to where the monastery is.

The mountains themselves are really weird looking, all puffy and cartoonish with lots of bizarre peaks and mounds, cliff faces and deeply cleft valleys. Close up the stone is unusual, soft sandstone full of rocks ranging from pebbles to good sized stones, so it almost looks like concrete. The range is not long, but it’s pretty high, a dramatic local upthrust.

The monastery is nestled right in the side of the mountain. There’s a whole complex there with a beautiful gothic church, a courtyard, shops and restaurants, an art museum with some really cool stuff including a bunch of medieval religious art, presumably from the monastery’s past, and alot of famous painters and sculptors, spanning from classical to modern, mostly Spanish but also French, Italian, Dutch and others.

From there you can take the funicular up to the top of the mountain. We hiked along the trails to the various peaks. To the south you can see Barcelona and the sea. To the north the snow-capped Pyrenees near the French border. To the east it’s hills and to the west high plains and desert. There’s even a shrine to Sant Joan up there.

There’s also some interesting plants and birds. There’s a very distinctive black and white bird I’ve never seen before. About the size of a crow, but much prettier. There’s also a variety of cyprus tree that grows around there, tall and thin and very dense so it looks like it’s been pruned. They tend to grow in clumps or rows. Almost certainly the inspiration for Guidi’s Nativity Façade. There’s also palm trees (not so much on the mountaintop, but all over town), and pine trees and cacti and other succulents. In fact it’s alot like California. Even the weather is similar, very mild and often foggy.

Then we caught the same set of trains in reverse order and were back in Barcelona. Our hotel the first leg of the trip was out near the beach, but this time were in the middle of downtown, right near one of the main train stations. We were pretty tired by the time we got back to the hotel, but luckily there was a row of restaurants right across the street. We found a great Lebanese place that serves shawarma and things like that.

I didn’t have a problem with the language. I didn’t really study up on Spanish like I did with German and Hungarian for the last trip. Still I was able to read the signs and understand a bit of conversation. Alot of people spoke english, but when they didn’t I found I could still communicate well enough to order food and that kind of thing. However I found myself wanting to say “danke” instead of “gracias” all the time.

Tuesday was the last day of the trip. We spent the morning walking around the neighborhood. Right next to our hotel was another funky park, and past that another picturesque old neighborhood. We made our way to Montjuïc from the opposite side, happened upon some castle, and past that the big Catalonia art museum. Spain seems to have alot of great artists and holds them in high regard. Although we didn’t have time to go inside, the grounds around it were pretty impressive, as was the architecture.

Then it was back the airport and home. Cold and rainy New York City.