2017 Merida Artist Studio Tour

Over 30 years ago, the Merida English Library (MEL) was an artist studio. Painter and printmaker Mark Callaghan, painter Alonso Gutierrez, and photographer Victor Rendon (deceased) established a beautiful synchronisity between each other and the community that lives on through the vision of the Merida English Library.

Perfect day for an artist studio tour

Originally created as a lending library (12,961 books to date), MEL has grown to become a centre for community. Through ongoing programs geared to connecting English and non-English speaking visitors and members, students and intellectuals, art aficionados and artists, the Library is a story of generosity and dedication, sharing and partnership.

One of the Library’s most popular fundraising events is the Artist Studio Tour. For a single day each February, talented artists in Merida open up their studios, and ergo themselves, to curiosity, admiration and reflection. “The Artist Studio Tour is our flagship fundraiser, but it’s also an important way for us to give back to the community”, Board Vice-president Andrea Slusser told me. “The event shines a light on artists living and creating in Merida, and gives us all an opportunity to connect with people from around the world.”

Even Fitz needed a sit down after 17 studios!

This year we managed (Leanna, Fitz and I) to visit 23 of the 29 artists, a herculean feat given the depth and breadth of the work in each studio. Over 350 enthusiastic people joined us on what was a beautiful day in Merida, and judging from the smiles of artists and participants alike, I’d say it was an unforgettable experience.

“We leave that studio/gallery, inspired, and walk to several more. The sun is searing now and Larry and I enjoy a quick refreshing break in the upstairs lounge outside Cy Bor’s tiny studio while Pauline and Joanne discuss Cy’s work in progress–a blue patterned plate stacked with lemons, glistening with flavour. Cy’s pastels are displayed throughout the house, bringing with them a freshness you can taste. I am in awe of her ability.”
– excerpt from Diana Barton footlooseboomer.com

Big shout out to El Cardenal Cantina, who handed out mojitos at the end of the tour! To all our fantastic volunteers— committee members, ticket sellers, media coordinators, poster distributors, studio sitters, promoters, project managers and the artists who took part this year…you are amazing! I have had the great pleasure of interviewing many of the artists over the past few years, so if you missed the tour, you can ‘meet’ Emilio Said & Samia Farah, Joseph Kurhajec, Rodolfo Baeza, Renato Chacón and many others right here on my blog. Hope to see you next year!

Postscript

Ten years ago this month, I walked out the door of the Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Calgary, Alberta, my ‘good to go’ papers in hand and a newly minted batch of peach fuzz on my head. I remember it being a typical fall day in Alberta—bright, crisp, and full of promise. I felt relief at my regenerated pate—an international design conference in New York beckoned, and I wanted to look more ‘edgy-artist’ than ‘chemo-girl’.

Cancer remained in my psychological self long after eradication from my physical one, and it took me a while to embrace the promise of that day. Eventually I did, taking my second chance and running with it—all the way to Mexico. Some people thought it was kind of crazy, and some days my own Optimistic Nature was pummelled into submission by the ever present Fear of the Unknown. However, after being released from treatment and falling right back into the status quo with frightening ease, I came to realize something. If my life was going to have more meaning for me, I had to become responsible for making it so. For me, that meant creating fundamental changes which would challenge me in new ways, creatively and emotionally. Finding fulfilment beyond my own normal meant following through on an oft imagined dream to live in another culture, where living with less didn’t mean living a less rewarding life.

Cancer was not a gift, but it was an opportunity to look at things differently. Moving to the Yucatan and embracing a culture foreign to me, was the catalyst for the kind of change I hoped to experience. After three years, I’m still adjusting to this new life and the challenges it has presented, but for the most part, the challenges are with an adversary more daunting than cancer—myself.

“Sorry”, Melva said, “that shouldn’t have hurt, but you’ve got the tiniest veins in your hands I’ve ever seen, and they’re not cooperating.”

I don’t know what Melva is talking about because I have my mother’s hands—large, sturdy and highly cooperative. My grandmother had English teacher hands—delicate, pale, and somewhat secretive. My hands are doing battle for me now, fighting back in a way I can’t, making it difficult for Melva to do her job. I’m not angry with Melva, I don’t have the energy. But I’m annoyed she seems so flippant, like she’s getting ready to jumpstart a car battery instead of a human body. My human body. Melva seems an okay person, but she’d be better suited to nursing animals than people. A dog on chemo wouldn’t care if Melva said, “The first time I rolled a chemotherapy bag down the hall to a patient, there was a leak in the bag and damned if it didn’t eat a trail right through the linoleum.”

Tossing the third ruined needle into the hazardous waste bin and snapping her gloves off with aggressive efficiency, Melva strides off in search of a small vein expert, and I find myself alone. Melva has been a distraction. Her absence leaves me nothing to focus on except my surroundings, something I’ve been avoiding. I scan ‘the others’ with slightly downcast eyes and realize just how much I’ve been trying to make myself, and them, invisible. They reflect what I choose not to see—fear, weakness, resignation—and I prefer not to look in that particular mirror. I’d rather look at my hands; they haven’t lost their self-esteem. I squeeze them in tight fists, willing the veins to cooperate.

This story came to mind as I was writing. I send it out to all who have endured the Melva’s of the world, to those who have thrived and those who are still waging war with their bodies. And to my remaining Hope Sisters—Leslie, Sherry and Susan.

A Good Death

How do you want to die? It’s a question that inspires some to grab a sand shovel, dig a hole and stick their heads in it — which, less metaphorically, is a possible answer to the question. But the more we ask this simple yet deeply complicated and personal question, the more its answer will probably determine the difference between a life that ends peacefully or regretfully.  –David G. Allan, The Wisdom Project, CNN

Death and the meaning of life are two subjects we can obsess over at 18 or 80, but that seem to move to the forefront of our thoughts at mid age. We expect to face the death of our parents and steel ourselves for that shattering call. We expect some of our friends, lovers, ex-lovers, may go gently, or not, into that good night. But if you’re like me, you don’t expect the grim reaper will come knocking at your own door any time soon. Instead, it’s the meaning of life, the meaning of MY life and how I hope to live it, that occupy my thoughts.
In his insightful writing for The Wisdom Project, David G. Allan shares books and films on the subject, as well as his own ‘good death’ checklist, because after all, “Our ultimate goal,” he quotes Dr. Atul Gawande in Being Mortal, “is not a good death, but a good life to the very end.” Here’s to that.

Stuff That Works

My dad is a Guy Clark fan. He especially loves ‘Stuff That Works’.

“I got a pretty good friend who’s seen me at my worst.
He can’t tell if I’m a blessing or a curse.
But he always shows up when the chips are down.
That’s the kind of stuff I like to have around. Stuff that works. Stuff that holds up. The kind of stuff you don’t have on a wall. Stuff that’s real. Stuff you feel. The kind of stuff you reach for when you fall.”  – Guy Clark

There was a time when my dad was into stuff, but like the banks of a river,  the ebb and flow of life have changed him. In his early 70s, he set out on an adventure to discover a new part of the world and in the process, something more about himself. A few years later I did the same, partly an attempt to live a long held dream of mine, and partly because I was ready to learn something new about myself too. I recently asked my dad what  ‘living the dream‘ meant to him, and this was his response.

“Living the dream” isn’t a phrase that resonates with where I am in life…it’s not really my tempo. For me, it’s not a matter of what do I want to do, but more, who do I want to be?

I do hold deep hopes for positive changes in our broken world and I am optimistic in that regard. I am saddened by the tragic events in the lives of those around me and in the world at large, but I refuse to give up hope that a better time is a comin’.

Back to “who do I want to be?” I have a strong desire (not a dream) to be a compassionate person in my daily walk through life, as I engage with family, friends and strangers. It is how I want my government in Canada to be, basing their decisions on what is caring and right, not “how much does it cost?” It is how I want other Governments to start treating their people; our national and global response to the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe; and the list goes on. I can’t make these global changes but I can exercise compassion each day of my waking life.

Am I living this desire, this dream? Maybe only at some times in my day, some days in my week, but it’s a worthy task so I will continue the trek.

My father is warm and compassionate and a classic introvert. He rarely speaks of himself but is a zen master at uncovering truths about others, and appears to embrace life through moments that many would miss. The best thing about the gift of growing older alongside my father is this—as he discovers and reveals more about himself, so too do I, and in the process, I am learning to accept and embrace others with a deeper love, compassion and understanding.
Thanks dad.

Road Trip: Isla Holbox

Tiny crescent moon bays undulate down the shoreline, like scalloped lace. The sand is fine and white, rivalling the feel of powdered sugar between my toes. It’s too shallow to dive in, so I wade into the aqua green water until it comes just above my knees, 100 feet off shore. The only sound is a lone pelican diving for small translucent fish that swim just beyond my fingertips. I tilt my head back, let the salty water wash over my skin, and say to the bird circling overhead, “I think I’ve died and gone to Holbox.”

IMG_6995Isla Holbox is a small island off the northeast tip of Quintana Roo in the Yucatan Peninsula. Holbox is the Mayan word for ‘black hole’, in reference to the plentiful fish, including whale sharks, still found in the waters offshore. It stretches 26 miles and is only one mile at its widest point. In order to preserve the streets paved with sand and sea shells, no cars are allowed, but you will see plenty of bicycles. There are also no big resorts, no hawkers along the beach, no air of aggressive tourism. Holbox is, I imagine, what Isla Mujeres and Cozumel were, once upon a time. But where the relentless onslaught of large scale tourism has rendered those islands unrecognizable from their quaint origins, the residents and devotees of Holbox seem intent on preserving the magic here, at least for now.

bnbNiccolo, a transplanted Italian from Florence, greets us as we pull up in our ‘taxi’, a golf cart retrofit for hauling luggage and people but not, apparently, large dogs. Iggy bounced out after a particularly impressive pothole caught the front right tire, landing him indelicately on the sandy road, thankfully wounding only his pride. Needless to say, he was happy when our cart reached its destination. Our home away from home for the next two days is a two room Airbnb, run by Niccolo and his girlfriend. The large wood beam and palapa architecture of Casa Francesca was instantly inviting, as were the adirondack chairs and two hammocks swinging gently under the covered veranda. We had the place to ourselves which is a relief given we never know how vocal Iggy will be in a new environment, especially one that is ensconced in a tropical forest.

mural 1Holbox is a unique story. Electricity only came to the island 10 years ago, and at our end of the beach, we walked home by the light of the stars, and my iphone. Humble eco friendly establishments live respectfully with their more upscale counterparts. But the most fascinating stories to me were the art and the animals. I’ll start with the art. Since 2012, the International Public Arts Festival has partnered with artist collectives from around the world to transform the public spaces on Holbox. Throughout Mexico, murals have long been a vehicle for community and political engagement, and these are no different. With developers hovering over this idyllic island like vultures, the murals attempt to capture the dreams, hopes and aspirations of the residents of Holbox, and create an awareness in the broader community of what is at stake here.

And now the animals.

IMG_6958Holbox has a dog population to rival a Disney movie. They come in all shapes and sizes, from Danes to Daschunds, and they wander the streets and beaches in remarkably good health and demeanor. Luca, another Italian we met on our many long walks along the beach said, “Holbox is a dogs dream”. He was preparing the rigging for his daughters sailing lesson, his three happy mutts nearby. “All the dogs here are cut”, he said, using his fingers to emphasize the point. “They do not have to worry about life.” As if on cue, the dogs jumped into the readied vessel, manning their stations at the front of the boat. This collective philosophy of caring and compassion spoke more to me about the island and its inhabitants than anything else I encountered. As we left Holbox on the ferry the next day, a massive Great Dane appeared out of nowhere on the dock, howling as if to say, “Don’t leave, but if you must, then don’t let it be forever.” Iggy barked in return, and we knew we’d be back.

 

The Heart Is Where Home Is

The plane shudders, as if waking from a bad dream. A blanket of bodies stretches out as far as the eye can see, some sleeping, some speaking softly so as not to disturb the air of intimacy. My sister reads next to me, an incandescent glow from her ipad casting a light that reveals her true age. Still beautiful. I turn to the window, pressing my nose against the ice cold surface. The world beyond the glass shimmers in the darkness, like a Polaroid caught between layers of polycarbonate; soft at the edges and intense at the core as only a Polaroid can be. Second by second, the focal point in the ephemeral image shifts with the plane’s descent into Calgary. I can tell it’s cold outside by the quality of the light, and tighten my coat around me as the chill from the window creeps by degrees into my own warm body.
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She sits bolt upright in the pitch black of the bedroom, and I can tell my sister is wondering where she is. The sliver of light through the basement window does nothing to illuminate the situation for her, and I remain still so as not to startle her awake. The clock on the bedside table ticks off the seconds and I shift ever so slightly. She moves across the bed to hover inches from my face, her pupils open but unseeing. If I keep very still, the veil will leave her eyes and she may remember who and where she is. Or at the very least, that I am not the enemy. I remember this from our growing up years, when we shared the same Peace/Love wallpapered bedroom, the same bed, and I find myself feeling protective of her still.
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“I know you’re talking about me”, our mother calls from the bedroom. And of course she’s right. We’re together because it’s been too long, and because my mother has proclaimed she wants to move – again. Joyce has moved so many times you’d think she was raised in the army. But no, she simply likes change. Craves it actually. My mother’s history of wanton impulsiveness when it comes to life decisions has kept us all wondering who among us will be housing her in our basement one day. But this time seems a little different. My mother must be the only 79-year-old in existence who, instead of insisting that the only way she’ll leave her house is in a box, drops the bombshell that she’s joined the waitlist for an Old Folks Home, Active Living Residence, Elder Care Community—whatever we’re couching them as these days. Joyce often looks like a little bird when she shares shocking pieces of information with her grown up children. Her round blue eyes blinkblinkblink as she waits for the penny to drop. The ensuing caucophany of ‘what about your art school, your garden, your ducks, your view, your friends, your bank account, your dog’, doesn’t seem to faze her. “I’ve thought this one through”, she confidently tells us, “and besides, its a waitlist and I’m not at the top, I’m #2”. More protests. Blinkblinkblink.
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I am the sum of my parts. My brothers are my genetic bookends, one older, one younger. We rarely talk but I know they would snatch me from a burning building with perhaps only a second thought. My three younger sisters—like Disney characters in that they are rendered with flawed perfection—are full of forgiveness and often doing rather heroic things in my opinion. My friends are the same. Angry Sue wants to change the world one rescued dog at a time and relishes going through my garbage searching for Recycling Infractions. Madelaine’s beauty is most reflected in her 16-year-old daughter, who writes music that makes me weep and has a depth beyond her years. My friend Judith and I travelled through our childhood, adolescence and adulthood together, in our own version of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. After years of flirting with commitment, she finally married into a family that eerily resembles mine, right down to the dog (she denies this of course). Cynthia, aka Cinammon Lance, is one of the funniest people I have ever known, which I think is partly to do with the fact that she lives with my brother where a sense of humour is not optional. These beloved friends and so many others are all cogs in my wheel, links in my chain, and I find when I’m away from them for too long, I don’t run so well. It’s not true that home is where the heart is because my heart is in so many places, like that travelling gnome. Maybe whoever said that, means that home is inside us, and we take it wherever we go. I like that idea.
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It’s cold in this basement, and under the feather duvet, I’ve created a cocoon I’m reluctant to emerge from. In Mexico I sleep on top of the sheets, the overhead fan whispering across my moist skin, like a lover. Not this morning. No whispering. No lover. Just the lure of my family upstairs.
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Sisters

Home

In late 2012, I began a journey that would take me as far away from my home as I’d ever been. I started this blog to maintain contact with those I left behind. I wrote to keep my mind off all the unknowns I was headed toward. I wrote to keep my sanity. The blog for me was less of a journal and more of a touchpoint; a point of contact with what and who I knew to be real, even though that contact was temporal.

Two years and two months later, I have written 117 posts, viewed by thousands of people living in over 70 countries around the world. From Russia to Peru, Switzerland to Guatemala, Haiti to South Africa, somehow people found my stories or pictures and gave me a little of their time.

Quite humbling to say the least, and I am grateful; at a time when I felt a bit alone in the world, your visits and comments helped me feel connected.

As I watched the world break through to 2016, I thought a lot about what to write in my first post of the New Year. Something witty? Something profound? To be honest, I didn’t awake with hope and optimism and a fierce determination to abolish all my bad habits and acquire no new ones.

I felt bereft.

I feel bereft for this world I live in, where stories of terror and human and animal suffering are ever present, and escalating. I feel bereft for all the millions of living souls that have no place to call home. The simplest of things. Home.

Home is what we long for, or at least the illusory memory of home. It’s where we believe we are safe, we are loved, we are nurtured. It’s where we escape from to make our mark on the world and it’s where we retreat for sustenance and strength.

It’s a place we feel connected to, however temporary. It’s a place that grounds us yet sets us free. Where stories are told, lives are shared, and bonds are forged that will last a lifetime, whatever that lifetime may be.

And so my wish for 2016?

That home not be a battleground, that it isn’t just a dream or a memory. That those who are unintentionally lost find their way back. And that those who have had to leave their homes behind, find compassion and grace when they least expect it.

Homeward bound,

I wish I was,

Homeward bound,

Home where my thought’s escaping,

Home where my music’s playing,

Home where my love lies waiting

Silently for me.