Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Hawaii Journal Part II: 'Iolani

Working on team stories with the 5th grade

In Hawaiian, the ‘Iolani bird is a heavenly hawk. Queen Emma chose it as the name for the Anglican school she founded for Hawaiian and mixed-race boys in Oahu between 1863 and 1870. Approximately 150 years later, the renaissance royal is gone but not forgotten. Many institutions and places hold her name, and the ambitious boys school now admits girls, and has become the largest co-educational Episcopal school in the United States.

I fell under the heavenly hawk’s gaze for the last two weeks as a writer-in-residence. I was brought in as the annual Harold Keables chair-holder, part of an endowment established about 30 years ago honoring a legendary English teacher.

The 'Iolani Bird, fierce and metallic

As a full-time writer who works by herself at home, it was a big shift to move from silent mode into talking about how to write. I arrived daily when it was still dark, and the metal 'Iolani birds eyes glowed red. Gradually the sky lightened to reveal students and staff exercising or studying at the outdoor tables. It's an intense school.

My first teaching appearances were in Japanese classes for 7th and 8th grade students, where I showed slides of my early years in Japan and talked (in English) about how I channeled those delightful experiences into my Rei Shimura mystery series. More than half the students in the class had been to Japan, so we chatted a lot about their most dramatic memories. Is it any surprise that Japanese toilets—both the antique variety, and the post-modern—brought gales of laughter?

 In the journalism/newspaper classes, students were curious how I chose to weave details into both kinds of writing. I enjoyed their full-color newspaper, Imua ‘Iolani, which was packed with interesting stories, photos and art. With so much activity on campus, there was no shortage of stories.

'Iolani hulu dancers performed at a reception.

Most of my time was spent working with creative writing and creative non-fiction classes. I had just one goal: to make them feel writing could be fun, much more than an assignment done for a grade. Okay, there was a second goal, too: to help them tap into the stories that were inside them; great material that they might  never have considered. I spoke about how the places we visit—or the family history we hear about from our relatives—can be springboards for the imagination. I told them only to choose writing about things they were genuinely interested in. 
Students work collaboratively in their multi-media study center

In one class, I challenged them to brainstorm settings and plots based on situations out of their own or their family's past. One young woman told us about her family’s historic home in France that had been overtaken by the Nazis during the war years. A high school boy thought of exploring the life of a Japanese picture-bride ancestor; and another male student wanted to write about the dilemma of being raised in a football-centered community, yet feeling the urge to put aside the sport for something cerebral. There were other story synopses set in North Korea, Viet Nam, and Japan: a whole world of creative possibilities.
Student-crafted books on Hawaiian history

And then there were stories I heard about how the teachers and staff came to Hawaii. Chatting with staff who became good friends, I heard hints of stories of their family histories on the island. Links between Japan and China and Polynesia sparkled like jewels.

Jo Okumoto, "Mrs. O," is a popular staffer many visit early each morning


With my Keables organizer, Frank Briguglio of English, and Jackie Oda, the Special Programs assistant who nominated me.


Stepping out into the sunshine after a day of classes, I could almost hear the great ‘Iolani bird rustling its feathers, readying itself to fly.   

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

one hundred and ten years ago in Paris

This was printed in Le Petit Journal on Sunday June 23, 1895 showing the expulsion of the 'zoniers' poor people who lived on the edge of Paris. The military were called to expel the poor and level the shanties from the 'zone' which were on the old walls of Paris. The Periphérique, the ring road, was built on top of it. The article asks 'Are these the enemy at our gates? Is the law too extreme and an extreme injustice?' Last Sunday this happened in Paris. The police evicted the poor and mostly Roma from the shanty town or 'bidonville' what was once 'le zonier' constructed on old rail tracks, 'le petite ceinture' at the edge of the Periphérique which was built on the old walls.
The BBC reported more than 350 Roma people had lived in the camp since mid-2015. Activists said many left early ahead of the police action which belongs to the national rail authority SNCF. France has one of Europe's toughest policies towards Roma. Most live in camps that are regularly demolished and every year thousands are deported. Amnesty International urged city authorities to find a lasting housing solution for those evicted in Paris - saying they would become homeless in mid-winter.
Bulldozers came and leveled the huts which were without water or heat.
What caught my attention was that in November I'd been driving on the Peripherique and saw the just opened Philharmonie de Paris, an amazing building the work of Jean Nouvel, from the ring road.
But then my eye caught on glints of light, people moving in this 'bidonville' among these shacks on the old tracks and the dichotomy hit me. One hundred and ten years later the poor people were evicted, their shacks torn down. Again. Cara - Tuesday

Monday, February 8, 2016

Along the Cote D'Azur

Annamaria on Monday

I have spent the last week with friends of a life time in their beautiful home in Nice.  They wined and dined and showed me their city and took me into the centre the of the contemporary art scene in a vibrant and gorgeous part of France.  WiFi was spotty where I was and now I have just arrived back in Florence past my bedtime.  So I will give you a photo essay of what I have been doing.  If it gives you 5% of the enjoyment it gave me, you are going to like this:

The first thing you see when entering Jean-Claude and
Francoise's building is an elevator the likes of which I have
only otherwise seen in movies.

My room: Like the rest of this delightful apartment, it is a
splendid combination of elegant antique French furniture and
edgy, intellectually stimulating contemporary art.

 I took a lot of pictures of the view from my room.  This one,
at dawn on a cloudy morning, is intentionally surrealistic!

Red sky in the morning.  That bright light right of center is the lighthouse at
Saint-Jean Cap Ferrat.  It took a few tries to catch it when the light was
flashing my way.  It shines faintly on the wall of that bedroom in the night.

During a dinner party in honour of Moussa Saar's one-man show, set to open
the following night.  JeanClaude gave a tour of his and Francoise's collection for
Moussa, his Gallerists, and the curator of a show at the Nice Museum of
Contemporary Art. 



We took many walks along the seaside.  I won't brag about the weather.  It
was not my doing, but it was my delight.

A typical seafront building


Flags blowing in the sea breeze



One of my favourite works in the current show--The Precious
Power of Stones, now at Musee d'Art Moderne e d'Art Contemporain

While taking in the view from the roof terrace of the museum

Selfie of three life-long friends


Jean-Claude collects the evidence that I had the nerve to order a cheeseburger
for my lunch al fresco after seeing the museum exhibit.

Sights in the old town







The fort at Villefranche sur-Mer



A harbour view from the town 


A view of an underground street.


Within the fort, there is a museum of the works of sculptor Voltigerno
 Antoniucci, called Volti






We had a private tour of Santo Sospir, a house where Jean Cocteau come for
visit and stayed for twelve years.  In the meanwhile, he painted the walls!

I took a ton of pictures, and give you just a few.  The place
marvelous.


The ceiling of the staircase leading down to the bedrooms

A drawing left behind by a visitor

The garden outside the bedrooms

View from the garden terrace 
That lighthouse at St.-Jean Cap Ferrat, whose light reaches
across the kilometres to the bedroom where I slept.


We heard a marvellous concert at the 18th century Palais Lascaris played on period
instruments from the museum's collection and sung marvellously by young musicians


We visited Menton, where they were setting up for this years'
celebration of the orange and lemon harvest.  Yes, that church
is made from citrus fruit.



Sunset from Ste.-Agnes



An old bunker along the Maginot Line, overlooking the sea from Ste.-Agnes

The view from up there!


Nice has turned an old slaughterhouse into free studios for artists.
We visited an exhibition of some of the works they are creating.  I am
including a couple of favorites.


As soon as I got close to this one hanging, I smelled what it is covered with.  I had to look at
 the list of works to confirm that my nose was right--it is covered with Nutella!


With up-and-coming young French artist Moussa Sarr after the opening of his show


Matisse's Villa


And his grave

And the view from his grave at dusk.


At the Picasso Museum in Antibes


We went to an open house at the Windsor Hotel, where the rooms are decorated by
artists.  Here is a shot of the ceiling of the bar.  This one's for you, Stan!