First-time director Shu-Ling Hergenhahn-Zhao recently transformed Cass Murphy into a Picasso painting for Lojo Simon’s play, Adoration of Dora. AOD is a surreal exploration of the life and work of Dora Maar, photographer, artist, and muse to Pablo Picasso in 1930s Paris, starring an all female cast.
Come on! Book that ticket. Rent a car. Circle the Iveragh Peninsula and summit the fog-covered mountains that fall into a sloping patchwork of green fields. Stop in Portmagee and order a pint at the Bridge Bar. Make a few new friends as traditional, Irish music pulses through the wild Atlantic air. If the Guinness makes you sleepy, check in at the adjoining Moorings Guesthouse. There’s no better place to rest your head than in a little fishing village on the edge of Kerry.
The clouds that settled over Bellingham Bay on Sunday morning began drifting into the Chuckanut Mountains by early afternoon. I was driving south on Chuckanut Drive at the time, through the place where the sunshine met the fog, breathless at the beauty of it and desperate for a place to pull over with my camera.
When I finally found a safe place, I thought, “The only thing that could make this shot better is a subject – a car or a bicyclist, maybe – driving through the light.”
Not even 60 seconds later, a car pulled up and a man said to me, “Great lighting! Do you want to use my girlfriend as a model?”
“Umm…yes…” Even now, with the picture as proof, I can’t believe that really happened.
Sometimes a prayer, a wish, or some seemingly insignificant request whispered up to God, does get answered.
I’m a sentimental girl, an incurable romantic prone to fits of nostalgia. Because of this, I have booked four trips to Ireland looking for…I don’t know. Lost love? A little white cottage with a thatched roof in which I can dream and write? The perfect travel photograph? An actual leprechaun or a metaphorical pot of gold?
I’m the girl who wanders the beaches of the Wild Atlantic Way, collecting shells and rocks. (Choose any jacket from my closet, and you’ll find grains of sand in the pockets.) I’ll pull over every hundred yards or so in County Kerry to capture a memorable vista with my camera. Live music in pubs makes me cry because every song sung in Ireland emanates from the soul of the earth and possesses me. I can’t explain it; it’s something you have to feel.
You know what isn’t romantic to me? Souvenir shops. Mass-produced trinkets or clothing in one of Ireland’s 40 shades of green. If I have to buy it, or it came from some factory in China, I don’t want it. In fact, I don’t even budget for souvenirs. So, it was a big deal that I bought two of them this past October.
One was not my fault. I’d fallen under the enchantment of a Spanish busker crooning out the most beautiful rendition of Hallelujah in the middle of Grafton Street, and, wiping tears from my eyes, turned over my last ten Euro to buy his CD. Now that I’m home, though, and the thrall has lifted, the CD makes me laugh because his Spanish accent reminds me of Antonio Banderas singing Livin’ La Vida Loca as Puss in Boots and nothing at all of that night in Dublin.
My second souvenir was a pewter pendant with my name stamped out in ancient Ogham script. Yes, it’s totally touristy. Locals don’t do this, but there was this guy sitting in front of Poulnabrone Dolmen in County Clare, and he had this Druid air about him, a table full of tools, and a good story about how he was an artist and got robbed while sleeping on the streets of Galway this one time… Pull at my heartstrings! Good-bye 20 Euro.
Ogham gets it’s name from Ogma, the Celtic God of Eloquence and Literature, and it was a form of writing used in Ireland between the 4th and 7th centuries.
Ogham, thought to have magical overtones, was common among the Druids. How could I resist buying a pendant with a magical language on it?
I suppose the real story is, though, that I have a soft spot for artists who are simply trying to eke out an existence. I picture them back at their meager apartments or the couches on which they surf in the homes of friends or tired relatives who wish they’d pick a real career, and I feel sorry for them. So I buy their wares and hope they can continue to create and find happiness.
This is how it all ends, I think, doubled over and gasping for air on a sand dune in Southern Colorado, almost 9,000 feet above sea level. Although the altitude didn’t warrant Everest-sized fears, I knew that a wet cough would soon plague me, followed by frothy sputum and respiratory failure. My brother, Anthony, would drag my dead body back to the car, and it would be boxed and flown home to Seattle in cargo hold.
I’d had a good run, but I wasn’t ready for death yet – or more realistically – the pain of continuing on. Throwing off my backpack, I plop down and tell Anthony I’m not going any further.
“But look,” he says, motioning towards High Dune, still 400 feet up. It might as well have been 4,000. “You’re so close to our goal. Do you really want to turn back now?”
I glance up at the wave of sand, tracing the curve to new heights I no longer cared to reach. “Yup. I quit.”
“It’s just the altitude. Take your time, catch your breath, and let’s keep going. You’re halfway there. Summon that inner firefighter.”
“I haven’t been a firefighter in four years. I’m out of shape. I can’t do this.”
Anthony walks a few steps ahead in silence, camera in hand, and I urge him to go on without me. I’ll wait. The sand is warm in the late afternoon sun, inviting me to nap until the burning in my lungs subsides and the wind cools my forehead. I’m inclined to accept, but he won’t allow it.
After a few minutes my heart rate slows, and the hot, pounding migraine I’ve been experiencing fades into a tolerable pulse, so I stand up and trudge forward. Fifty yards later, I fling myself onto the sand again. “I can’t go on!”
“You’re a Hanson. Yes, you can.”
“I’m not you. I don’t climb all the 14,000 foot peaks in Colorado on the weekends.”
Anthony glides over the terrain like an agile Sherpa, a natural mountaineer whose effortless pace I can never hope to match, and summits the first small dune we’ve been ascending for the past hour. He calls down to me, “Come on!”
A couple in their early 50’s, tan and serene, is sitting a few yards away, holding hands and gazing over the Great Sand Dunes vista below. I am holding my new Nikon and think of capturing the view from right there, but it isn’t really the shot I want. The real view is at the top and I need it for my portfolio, but continuing seems impossible. I’d cry, except I’m sure that would just make my headache worse.
“The peak of High Dune is right there. IT’S. RIGHT. THERE. You can do this, Jolene.”
The woman looks over at me and says, “You can’t come all the way up here with a camera like that and not go to the top. Keep climbing.”
She’s right. My camera, which I’ve dubbed “Fancy” after the Iggy Azalea song (to my shock and dismay, “Nat Geo” did not stick), was purchased specifically for travel photography, and I would never be content to know that my little brother beat me to the top and was capturing my shot. I’d have to make it or die trying. So I power on, taking ten slow steps at a time. Ten steps, break. Ten steps, break.
And then, something unexpected happens. Within feet of the summit of High Dune, the ache in my lungs, legs, and head begins to disappear. I run. Passing Anthony, I think about cartwheeling across the peak, except the running makes me lightheaded.
“See, I knew you could do it!” he yells after me.
I spin around, the 360 degree view transporting me to other worlds, and I feel like I could just as easily be somewhere like Morocco. With each actuation of my camera shutter, I forget about the struggles of the past hour and a half. I’m an explorer again. A traveler. A photographer. Not some defeated middle-aged woman crawling, half dead up a mountain.
Later, as we begin our descent, the couple in their early 50’s passes us. The woman says to me, “If you can do it, I can do it. Thanks for the motivation.”
Sliding down the dunes, shoes filling with sand, I think about how important it is to surround ourselves with people who believe in us, people who push us beyond our perceived limitations, people who won’t allow us to give up. I would have given up had it not been for Anthony. I have always carried a lot of pride in my individuality, the strength in the word ONE. But, I have to concede that there are some things only accomplished by the power of two.
The Idiom Theater’s40th 48-Hour Festival kicked off last night. For those of you who don’t live in Bellingham, Washington (or for those who do and haven’t yet discovered the theater), the festival is two evenings of six short plays, all created in less than 24 hours.
I’ve attended several 48-hour festivals and have always been curious about what goes on behind the scenes. How on earth does a randomly assembled team write a play, memorize lines, rehearse, and costume themselves in only 24 hours? Twice??! Idiom founder, Glenn Hergenhahn-Zhao, was kind enough to let me follow around a team from start to finish with my camera during the last festival to find out.
Here’s a look behind the scenes as I followed playwright Kamarie Astrid and her team from page to stage on night one.