It’s almost eleven New Year’s Day but already the holidays feel like events in a remote past.
When the ball fell I scrambled to get my camera to capture some of the NBC live broadcast of the Times Square celebration. I never think of these things until the moment is right there in front of me and I have an urge to capture and memorialize it.
I am fascinated by change, how one minute to the next what my eyes see changes. If I don’t see it anymore, did it happen? Was it as I remember it?
It’s like how I used to feel about our trips to Manila. Minutes after we get home in La Paz, I feel as if I’d never left. I try to find evidence that the recent past really happened. I smell the clothes we brought back while they’re still in the just opened suitcases and imagine I smell Manila. Time and the changes it works are enigmas. In a sense it’s the mystery of the passing of time that makes me take photographs. Now grownup I am still trying to secure evidence that some things happened; they are not a figment of my imagination.
And yet, once the moment passes, the past is imagination. To me this is the marvelous thing about being an artist. We may no longer have the past but with our fertile minds we can construct our many versions of it, each one linking the viewer to some feature of what was: the past itself is far too vast to capture it even with the mind’s fabulous capacity for invention! It may be the emotion of a moment that we recreate, a vision of it, one or two characters in it, an external or internal event; how well he uses invention to create a new sensory experience is the mark of the artist, his gift.
Art is far more than just our essay to recreate what is past. In his book, The Nature of Art, philosopher Thomas E Wartenberg goes over the theories posited by artists and non-artists alike about the nature of art. It makes for heady but essential reading for those who are by nature anyway curious about all aspects of human experience. Curiosity in this case does not kill the cat; it invents it!
Wartenberg takes as his starting point Yasmina Reza’s 1996 play, Art, where Serge buys an abstract painting and encounters his former mentor’s criticism that what he has bought is not art at all. It’s a white painted square, that’s it, and he paid a fortune for it. Marc, educated and sophisticated, challenges what made the simple canvas art. Wartenberg introduces seminal writings by both philosophers and artists through the centuries positing what art was, a debate that is as fresh today as newly minted coins, or fresh-baked bread, or the first day of a new year!
Last night, as the fanfare subsided on Times Square, my iPad sounded. April, my sister in Iloilo, was calling on Skype. We talked for close to an hour. She showed me the 13 different fruits they bought for lunch on the belief that having them on the table the first day of the year would bring luck. Memories! One of the fruits she held up was a star apple. Not from a tree in the yard, my father’s yard where there used to be a couple of star apple trees leaning over the canal and Burgos Street. The canal is gone, covered now with a cement sidewalk, and the star apple trees, too, are gone. The fruit she held up they had bought at the market.
She told me the caldereta was still simmering on the stove. The goat stew is traditional fare at fiesta in our grandmother’s house. Now it features on my sister’s New Year’s Eve lunch. April told me goat meat was now available at the La Paz market every day. One time she wanted to buy some goat meat but the woman had ran out of it. She told my sister to wait a few minutes and she would have the meat. My sister went to a carinderia and ordered halo-halo. When she went back to the woman’s stall there was a whole goat carcass on the hook. She had a goat slaughtered in back of the market while my sister had merienda!
New technology is bringing us together even as we go our separate ways, like Abraham’s seed broadcast like sand all around the globe! Last night while I watched Carson Daily at Times Square I chatted with my nephew, Mark, in Singapore, and with an old family friend, Delfin, aboard a Princess cruise ship in Hongkong. I exchanged messages with an old classmate in Davao, with a friend in Carthage, Indiana and another friend in Richmond a few miles farther East. My older sister and I chatted a few minutes before she dozed in front of her TV watching the ABC coverage of the NYC celebration. And all the while the TV showed various celebrations around the world from Sydney’s to the giant fireworks display in Dubai to Pyongyang’s first New Year celebration!
Altogether the New Year 2013 came with the marvelous accoutrements of our modern age, our societies changed but some things unchanged: we seek each other in our real and Internet-mediated families and communities as an unimaginable future takes the place of the past in an ever-changing present!
As one of my favorite poets wrote:
We shall not cease from explorationAnd the end of all our exploringWill be to arrive where we startedAnd know the place for the first time.
…And all shall be well andAll manner of thing shall be wellWhen the tongues of flame are in-foldedInto the crowned knot of fireAnd the fire and the rose are one.T.S. Elliott, Little Gidding