Thursday, December 2, 2010

3 years later...December 2nd

     Three years ago today I was too sick to get out of bed.  I presume it was a gloomy Sunday although I have no recollection of what the weather was like.  The 'weather' inside me was dark and depressed and as was usual for a Sunday I was supposed to work.  Work involved meeting and off loading 4 or 5 pallets from a 40 ft trailer.  The driver would call me anytime from 2pm till midnight and when he did I was supposed to go unlock the shop and off load the pallets of fresh juice into the cooler. 
   But on Sunday December 2nd 2007 I had the energy of a dying person.  My head was pounding hard behind my right eye and my nose was so stuffed up I could only breathe through my mouth.  I couldn't eat because when I did ten minutes later it would spew forth from both ends in waves of noxious bodily fluids.  I learned this the hard way before I gave up eating and drinking completely.  It wasn't pretty, death never is. 
    I remember having the thought 'People die from the flu all the time' over and over that day and I pondered calling a friend to take me to the hospital in the final hours of consciousness.  But I never made that phone call. 
    Instead I called my boss and told the automated voice on his cell phone that I was too sick to meet the truck.  After the phone call my head hurt so bad I drew a bath and sprinkled eucalyptus oil in it hoping this would help clear out what I knew to be yet another bloody sinus infection.  I had no idea that dangerous my situation was.
    Apparently after my bath I went into the bedroom to lay down and sleep off this sickness that was trying to kill me.  I dreamt of writing an article in the Eugene Weekly to tell the university students to stock up on disposable diapers for adults for the impending flu epidemic which was soon to kill off significant numbers of students.  (I had heard the flu was going around on campus and surely what I had must be the flu). 
   Four days later after hallucinating about everything from the meaning of landmarks to the funding of Hollywood through pornography I briefly heard my neighbor George's voice.  George, who suspected something was off because I hadn't put the trash out, had entered my house through the wide open back door (it was 30 degrees outside) and found me wrapped in a towel, half in and half out of my bed, my body contorted into such an unnatural shape that he thought I was dead.  I very well could have been since I remember hallucinating that my head was a Dio de Los Muertos skeleton.)
    So terrified was George that he ran back to the house yelling to his wife Betty "Yona is dead, she is dead..... I just know she is".
   Betty Like George is from Brooklyn and both had served in a medical capacity during WWII.
   "Call 911."  Betty says like a person used to being in survival mode.
    During my next conscious moment I was in an 'shanti wagon' in India with multi-colored beads hanging from the roof and several people I did not know surrounding me with name tags made from Bakelite Mah Jongg tiles. 

    A month later when I got out of the hospital and I looked into an ambulance I realized my hallucinating mind must have made all the life support cords into beads and the paramedics into vendors at Saturday Market.  But for the entire 30 days that I was in the hospital I believed my hallucinations were reality.  My friends, kind as they are, allowed me the artistic license to refer to the ambulance as a 'my shanti wagon in India.' 
    It was only after I got home on January 4th, 2008 and opened the door to my back room (which I fully expected to be filled with burnt out computers) that I realized I had laid there hallucinating from approximately 1pm on Sunday December 2nd till 5pm on Wednesday December 5th when I was found by George. 
   It was the right frontal lobe that was affected when the sinus infection blew through the wall between my brain and my sinus knocking me out of consciousness like someone had swung a board with a lot of force to the front of my head.  'Blam', I was down, the comic would read. 
    During those first two weeks in the hospital I only have two real memories.  The first came about as they were wheeling me into have surgery on my brain and my bed had nearly collided with that of another woman's in what must have been a busy corridor. 
   "Age before beauty" she said sitting up from her bed.  The memory still makes me chuckle because she must have seen an extremely ugly looking person when she looked at me with a purplish bloated and deformed head.
    The other memory involved seeing the tears flow from my mother's face and me thinking 'gaud I must look like shit, I made my mother cry!' 
    I continued to hallucinate while I was in the hospital and had very little understanding of reality.   I was hungry and as far as I could tell they were trying to starve me to death.  I became increasingly obnoxious as the days wore on till at some point I pulled the feeding tubes out of my nose.  I remember failing yet another swallow test and being held down by two female nurses while a third reinserted the hoses into my nose.  (That will teach me they must have thought because that is one of the most painful experiences I have ever had.)
    While I was in the hospital it took a long time for the left side of my body to start following my brain's orders again.  I couldn't feed myself or tie my shoes or read.  I felt like a frustrated infant and often had temper tantrums. 
   The first time I heard my cell phone ring (which I had demanded to get back from my best friend Tina) I picked it up and started banging it on the hospital floor to make it stop ringing.  Fortunately a friend of mine was in the room at the time and said "What are you doing?" as he took the phone away from me. 
   "I am trying to get it to stop ringing" I screamed in frustration.
   By the end of my 30 day visit I was able to eat again (21 days without food and the shaved head for my brain surgery had left me looking like a Buddhist monk according to my friend Alice and 'not very attractive' according to my friend Suzie). 
   The best I could do for the first two weeks that I was home with the help of my friend Joan was to get up at 8am for my shot of antibiotics and drink some tea then back to bed till I woke again around noon and eat a little food then another shot or perhaps a doctor's appointment.  My world had suddenly become so small and completely defined by my near fatal adventure. 
   So now it's 3 years later.  I am happy to report I can eat and walk and type (although not as fast as I used to) and start a fire and sometimes maybe even make some art.  And for the most part I am happy to be alive. 
   I will never forget all the wonderful people who came to my hospital room bringing me food and praying to their various gauds and monks that I would live.  I now know that it was my dream of love and the love I received that was responsible for my living through something that would kill most people.  I thank you all and am forever grateful for your love and attention.  yona c. riel


Thursday, August 19, 2010

My Personal Favorites from the Show..."Neuro-pathic Passages"

     Hey friends, I know I haven't been posting much lately.   Every single waking moment has been spent  getting ready for my first solo show since my traumatic brain injury in December 2007.   It's a good sign that I have time tonight to write a brief blog despite being brain dead. 
    While working the past several days/weeks (or was it a month?) I have been revisiting my life as I  sorted through over 5000 photographs.  A few of them have jumped out and proclaimed themselves as my favorites, so I thought I'd share those with you in hopes of enticing you to come out next Friday, August 27th and see the show. 
     The first one is a closeup of the fountain in the botanical gardens in Oaxaca.  It is decorated with marigolds and amaranth, the tradition for Dios de los Muertos.  In the print the color of the water contrasts beautifully with the flowers.
     The next photograph is a distant view of the fountain.  It is still close-up but you see more than just the details.  If you look at the rocks you will notice they are red.  There is a tiny bug in Mexico called Cochineel and they use it to dye just about everything.  In this photo they have put it into the water to make it run red like blood.   I am hoping for my opening to get my hands on some and have a miniature fountain with the waters running red. 
    My next favorite I completely forgot about until my very last search through the photographs.  It is softly focused and reminds me of a spirit who is half of this world and half of the next one.   I like it because it is skeletons and one of them is being reflected back in a mirror off to the side.   I also really like the soft pastels-colored hues and their shocking expressions.
    Some of my other favorites include a few pieces that I have completed since my TBI such as the one entitled "Growing Pains".  Now that I have a little distance I can see that this piece really captured the frustration, tears and anger I experienced almost every day for the first year after my brain exploded.  I am so thankful I had such a caring, experienced and knowledgeable therapist who worked with me every week.  Here's the picture of the piece.  Eat, Cry, Sleep. 
    The next piece was done in a class at Art and Soul last year.  It is a 3 dimensional piece with the image of the head extending out a 1/2 inch from the rest of the collage using rivets and two pieces of plexiglas to sandwich the image.  I like how it came out in it's 2 dimensional manifestation also.
     This last piece captures how I feel this very moment.   It is called "Art Slave" and features a starving Buddha as the main image.  When preparing for a show I know I am not alone in forgetting about the food 'thang'.  The work has consumed every waking moment leaving no time for things like food shopping, housecleaning and sitting down to eat.  Any rent-a-wife services out there??
     That's it for now because talking about food has made me really hungry and I don't want to end up like the Buddha in the picture above.  Thanks for reading my friends and I hope to see you in just over a week at The Voyeur on Blair.  We are even going to open early (at 5pm) so you can stop by before you head out to the EC.  Yona C. Riel

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Digital Works.. the journey to the inside (continued)

     Sorry I haven't posted in a few weeks.   (have you missed me just a little)?  I been working on a show that will be at The Voyeur opening the last Friday in August so I have an excuse.  (Just saying). However today since I have a bit of time I am doing a short and sweet post about my digital work.
   Though I was online before I came to Eugene, the move from SF changed my 'online' relationship.  All of a sudden 'real' life was much quieter and as I was struggling to keep my right brain stimulated.  I searched for alternative online art sites and found one where you traded postcards with strangers in other parts of the world.  I was also using the worldwide lesbian site called Shoe and to mix things up a bit  I would often ask my online friends to trade handmade postcards.  It seemed an easy way to keep the city stimulation I was accustomed to going.  Following are some of the 'postcards' I sent.
    The one above I titled 'Thirteen'.   It's not only my favorite number but a significant part of my heritage.  I was born on Friday April 13th, my mom was born of Friday June 13th and my grandmother was born on Friday February 13th!  I was shocked when I found this out because what are the chances of THAT happening?
   The piece above is a cubist woman pondering the number 13.  It was collaged onto a 4 by 6 tarot card.  Once the collage part was done I scanned it then printed it onto watercolor paper and used a small paintbrush to manipulate the ink while it was still wet.
     The next piece was originally collaged onto a digital image of a 'found collage'.   The mannequin (a favorite subject matter of mine) is losing her head.  The piece is titled 'Evidence'.   It became particularly relevant after my brain injury with the words 'brain re-sizement' listed as 'evidence of my insanity'.
    This last piece called 'Listening' prominently shows a nude woman listening with a red flower growing like an idea out of her head.  In the upper left hand corner there is a mannequin covering her ears refusing to listen.  In the lower left hand corner there is a poem.... 'you think you can grasp me, think again.  my story flows in more than one direction.... '.  I sent this one to an online friend in Montreal.
   That's it for now my friends.  All of the work I have been writing about in the blog posts titled 'journey to the inside' will be at my show the last Friday in August at The Voyeur.  I know it's Eugene Celebration that weekend but I hope you will make time to come and see me.   As always your comments are welcome and thanks for reading!
yona c. riel

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Journey to the Inside; day five... more older work..

    Before I came back to Eugene in 2002 I had been using found objects in my collage.   Everything from scrap metal found on Point Isabel to repurposing my own canvases and seaglass.  When I moved back here my first home was a warehouse in the Whitetaker just a block off the railroad tracks.  Soon walking the tracks looking for odd metal things to use in my art became a regular way to pass the time. 
   One day, I walked the other way and discovered a place called MECCA.  At that time it was located in a funky building on Railroad Blvd and a woman, Jennifer FG was MECCA's new director.  She too had just moved from the bay area and was interested in making art from castaways (which is why she took the MECCA job).  We became fast friends.  I remember spending a lot of time there rummaging through donated bottle caps, tiles and strange plastic doodads for artistic inspiration. 
    I am not really sure how or why I challenged myself to make a piece from cigarette butts.  I had tried a few times before I left the bay area with disastrous results.  But one day after making a piece from used tea-bags that my friend Alice promptly bought I became re-inspired to try again. 

     This isn't a very good picture of the piece I called "Old Bags".  Once the tea bags were opened up they looked like dresses to me.  Each bag had it's own unique hue depending on how long it had been steeped and how much it had dried out after being used.  I thought of the tags as heads and the strings attaching the tags as arms, although in this picture you can't really make out the strings.         
     Sometime while I was making this piece I got the idea to use the paper from cigarettes that did not have filters.  Just like with the teabags, after I unrolled each butt the tiny pieces of paper had their own unique qualities.
    The dress is made entirely from the papers of over a hundred cigarette butts; the burnt edges reminding me of ruffles.  For the head I used a cut out from an old Monopoly box.  The collage was made onto a patina-ed door that I nailed tacks down the left side and across the bottom.  Then I added an old Mexican metal piece I had hanging around.  The breasts were made using white plastic beads and tacked into place.  Yes I painted the tips of the tacks red to match not only her 'eyes' but the red 'donut' in her necklace. 
   Thanks for reading friends and as always your comments are greatly appreciated.  I may or may not have another teabag piece made by the time this show goes up but the Lady made from cigarette butts will definitely be at the show.  She doesn't even smell like old cigs anymore....  :) yona c. riel

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Journey to the Inside; day four... older work..

     Last night as I reviewed thousands of digital photographs it felt very much like going through a photo album with my Aunt Pauline back in April when I last visited her.  The big difference was instead of weddings, funerals and 90th birthday party photos there were dyke march photos from 2005,  Amsterdam photos from 2002 and random art shots taken all over the bay area.   I was plunged into the past.  Some photos brought up good memories, some not so much.  Once I get the pictures framed and photographed I will include them here.  Only my favorites,  promise.
    Today I am going back to the not too distant past (2003).  I was infatuated with Golden's new Quinacridone colors and abstraction.  The first piece was entered into the Mayor's art show in 2003.  I did not get in but when the Salon de Refuse' show was reviewed by the Eugene Weekly,  Molly Templeton did make mention of it. 
     There are five or six layers of collage work including strips of text from old books, tissue paper from sewing patterns, several washes of acrylic paint, and oil based pastels accentuating certain areas.  I wanted the piece to land somewhere in-between total abstraction and a hint of a story-line.  There are two figures, one large and centered with the letter 'B'.  The figure looks as though it may step upon a smaller figure appearing in the lower right hand corner.  The blue lines made to look like dressmaker's chalk served to connect the figures energetically and visually. 
    What I like about the piece is the texture made by the the patterned tissue paper, that whatever story line there is leaves a lot of room for interpretation and the way the print comes through in various areas.  I can dig deeper each time I look at this piece and extract a different story. 
    The next piece is also done during the same period (2003) and by the looks of it I am again smitten with Quinacridone Gold.   Judging by the look and content my guess is it is a practice piece that allowed me to experiment with the color pallet in the piece above.
     Instead of embedding the words under tissue paper I wrote a poem onto the piece in oil pastels after layering and texturing it with several washes of colors.   The poem is about 'Art' and says, "In the beginning there was Desire.  Once Desire discovered Movement the two fell in love giving birth to Color.  A cacophony ensued... and then there was Art".
    It is framed and is approximately 21" across and 25" long.   Thanks for reading.  Yona C. Riel

Friday, July 9, 2010

Journey to the Inside; Day three...

   The two pieces in this blog entry are the last two I did before my TBI in December of 2007.   Like I mentioned in previous entries I despised these pieces until I uncovered their prophetic meaning.   While I made them I was very aware that I was working subconsciously; digging deep much like an archeological excavation of my psyche.  That kind of honest searching doesn't come easy.
    The first one entitled 'The Chaos of Nothing' still hurts when I look at it.  On the left side there is a young woman looking deep into (the viewer's) eyes.  She has a scarf on her head that looks like the colors of a globe.  Below her is the word 'Nothing' and below that there is a compass that when you look inside the word 'Chaos' stares back at you.

    The second layer is a cityscape in black and white with a big white arrow and the words 'direction, forward, move'.  A singular green tree is scrawled into the otherwise colorless cityscape using oil pastels.  Underneath is a big red question mark.  Next to the question mark there is a 'sign here' sticker, (the kind a realtor puts on a contract).   The vintage postcard in the upper right corner with buildings penciled onto it also has written in Mrs. H. M. D.'s beautiful cursive  'We plan now to come straight to you...'   It is postmarked 'Texarkana',  Mar 1938.
    I framed the last six art pieces leading up to my TBI using oak doors because each one metaphorically was an opening to the next phase in my life.   Though this piece is somewhat sane in it's design it speaks to my frustration in searching for an artist community.  (I really wanted to 'sign there' but my tormenting self-doubt stopped me.')   "Why"  I was demanding to know, "isn't there a Milepost 5 in Eugene?".  "How am I supposed to do art when I don't have a community to support me?" 
   I was deeply tormented during this time.  The next piece is the last one I did before I 'went down' for 5 days into a state of heightened electrical brain activity.  (I will never forget the hallucinations I had as I lay there on the floor waiting for someone to discover me before I died.)   In all probability the piece was never completed, although now it would be an 'artistic sin' to alter it.  This piece in particular has a disturbing and chaotic feel to it although the word is not used.

    I have since named it 'Instant Asshole' because those are the words most apparent in the piece.  Though it's difficult to see there is a map of the bay area on the left side of the piece just below the Pop Pop firecracker wrapper (used on a Rickie Lee Jones album cover of the same name).  A creepy doll face is split in half with the definition of insanity typed into the space in between.  There is a Mexican 2000 peso bill with 'run to where this time?' written on it in the lower right corner.
   In the upper right hand corner there is a head shaped balloon that has a square mouth and a small eye releasing a tear drawn onto it.  After my TBI I realized this piece (even more so than the others) was trying to tell me that soon my head would expand out like a balloon and cause massive damage to my brain.
     'The universe' in her loudest voice answered my months of questioning and self doubt by returning me to the state of an infant.  (I didn't even know how to swallow when I regained consciousness, much less walk, talk or tell the time).     
   All of these pieces will be up in my show at 'The Voyeur' on Blair (next to Olive juice) opening the last Friday in August.  I will be posting more art from my photography days and the work I have been doing in the past 3 years while recovering.  Thanks for reading and as always your comments and questions are most welcome.  yona c. riel

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Journey to the Inside: Day two, a roadtrip through the artwork of Yona C. Riel

     Day two of my journey to the inside has me revisiting the same time period (the months leading up to my TBI).   The first piece has the temporary title of 'Ignoring Myself'.  It is a collage using several handwritten fragments, some cut outs, and a lot of oil based pastels which I scratched back into to get to previous layers.  It is mounted onto an oak cabinet door (doors seem particularly relevant for this series of collages.)

      Again there are two entities, one a shadow looking away, the other with red spikes coming from the area of the heart.  I really didn't like this piece when I did it (was I trying to ignore it's blatant message?), but now that I have the benefit of 3 years distance and a radical change in perspective, both the yellow/pink/gray/lime pallet and the subject matter strike me as raw and real, especially when I consider what the piece was trying to say.  Although I drew the four green lines coming out of the right side of the head as hair, after my TBI the meaning of the lines changed to a head about to explode.   It's hard to see in the photo but written where a mouth would be are the words 'my head'.
    The next piece has a similar feel.  The large vacant space between the pieces of the head, the black/white contrast between the hair and the handwritten letter behind it and the numbers from a game of Bingo all indicate a desire to be pointed in (the right) direction.

    The sold tag on the bottom of the figure and the bright red placed around the edges reminds me of the anger I was feeling at the time.  I was yearning for the edge of a city, either Portland or San Fransisco, and the stimulation those cityscapes had to offer me.  I felt trapped in the 'good deal' of a single family dwelling here in Eugene, though I had not lived in one for many years.  It struck me particularly hard during this time period because an artist community I was interested in buying into (Milepost 5 in Portland) was just going on the market.
    That's it for today.  Thanks so much for reading.  I have a few more pieces from this time period to post which I will do once I get them framed and photographed.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Journey to the Inside.... a 'road trip' through the art of Yona C. Riel

    Since posting my road trip in April and my 2 week excursion to San Fransisco in June, it is now time to do a different kind of trip.  Instead of talking about everybody else's art I am going to talk about my own, in preparation for my first solo show in a long time on the 27th of August at 'The Voyeur' a new gallery located on Blair between 5th and 6th.
    Going through my art of the last few decades has been like reading a visual autobiography.  Despite my diminished brain capacity I remember precisely what I was thinking/feeling while making most of it and the messages lay there on their substrates whispering secrets to me.  Perhaps this is because the art has not had a chance to 'speak' to anyone else (being locked in a closet for the last few years while I have been recovering from a traumatic brain injury (TBI)).   Hopefully the show will change all that and the art will morph into it's next life.     
   My intent for this 'journey to the inside' is to post not only pictures of the work in the upcoming show but what was going on for me when I made it.  Also I will attempt to make it linear dividing the art into pre-TBI and post-TBI because it seems to make sense that way.  I want to review one piece a day unless I run out of time, in which case you'll just have to come to the show.
   The first piece was made from a red electrical box found in the debris of a burnt house in Glenwood, Oregon.  I was there with a friend who, like myself, was attracted to the remnants after a fire.  
   Much of my work is untitled as is this piece.  (perhaps my readers will suggest one to me in the comments).   There is a broken bridge (the golden gate) in the lower right hand corner and footsteps walking away from the break.  Two entities are exchanging energy, one named e-yo and one with the word 'spirit' on her forehead.  The inside of the box has been fitted with cedar inserts painted a lime green.  For the outside of the box I sanded out most of the red and painted it black.  Then I went back in with stamps and covered the surface with white and red letters and question marks.
   In the upper left hand corner there is a scribble of confusion.  The singular spring (cut from the box spring of a couch found in the debris) serves to warp the three lines of communication between the two entities further by spiraling through them.
   At the time I made the piece I was feeling distant from myself.  So much so that I really couldn't even hear what the spirit part of me had to say.  This is the first of several pieces made during the months leading up to my injury that represent (for me) the beginning of my confused state.  I think this piece was completed about 8 months prior to 'the TBI event'.  It measures approximately 5" deep by 10" wide and 12" tall.  If you want to see it 'live' come to my show at The Voyeur on Blair St. the last Friday in August.  If you want to help me name it leave a comment here on the blog.  Thanks for reading.  Yona C. Riel

Friday, June 25, 2010

the Minimalist Blog entry.. 'The Sea Purple'

   Last night I saw the movie entitled 'The Sea Purple' at the Castro Theater.  The movie was based on a true story of a (another) young woman, Angela, who refuses to marry, only this time it takes place in the 1800s in Sicily. 
   Her father is a powerful (and abusive) man and at first tries to force her into submission by physically abusing her then locking her in a cellar.  When nothing works (and his wife brings up the issue of the priest molesting their other daughter) he finally gives in but only if Angela agrees to become a man. The small town is unwilling to accept Angela as Angelo but because her father is the quarry-master (and the most powerful man on the island) and Angelo has taken over his position they are forced to do so.  Angelo also marries her best friend Sara, who initially is shunned while attending church and asked by her mother in a poignant scene "What did you expect?"
   I did not get any screen shots of this movie but it was beautifully shot on the coast in Italy.  Even so the movie itself did not hold together well enough to be one of my favorites.  (I got spoiled by the opening night movie The Secret Diaries of Anne Lister and the documentary of Anne Lister the next day).
   It makes me wonder (again) just how many women's lives were subverted, buried and concealed due to a naturally occurring rebellious nature.   It also brings up my relationship with my father and our inability to find a way to coexist.  Was I a rebellious girl?  Indeed!  And thank the gauds (after I got out of that house) I live in a place and a time where I do not have to suffer the abuses that those before me did.  Thanks for reading...  yona c. riel
PS: tonight with the festivities beginning in the city I will be posting mostly pictures with a few blurbs interspersed...stay tuned...

Monday, June 21, 2010

Off World

    'Off World' is a movie set in 'Smokey Mountain', a notorious slum in Manila.   A few minutes into the movie we are told 30 years ago it was a small fishing village and now it is 2 million tons of garbage.  It is named 'Smokey Mountain' due to the continuous flow of methane gases that leak out of the 12 story pile of trash.  Children, 5 and 6 yrs old, and adults endlessly search through the pile looking for plastic and other saleable items for a few pesos a day. 
   Lucky, born in these slums but adopted by Canadian parents, has returned after many years to search for his kin.  He has contacted one person, Julia, who knows where he can find his brother. 
   Julia introduces Lucky to his brother Mamacita, an effeminate gay hustler who turns tricks to survive.  Keeping their connection a secret Lucky decides to crash in Mamacita's place presumably to get closer to 'her' and keep his distance at the same time. 
    Lucky falls into desolation wondering why his mother gave him away and kept Mamacita.  He wanders through the squalor in Smokey Mountain, the visuals of the slum mirroring the emptiness he feels inside, till one night he just lays down, presumably to die.  Then Julia saves him in one of the more beautiful and poignant scenes of the movie.  The plastic bags are hanging all around them like white surrender flags.  
    After Julia nurses him back to health he reveals his identity to his brother as they are walking together on Smokey Mountain.   Again, the cinematography steals the scene...
   By the end of the movie Lucky has re-connected with himself, his brother and his mother, fallen for Julia and we are to believe that he has found what he was looking for. 
    For me, I got so engrossed with the amazing images that the storyline lost it's momentum and I found myself confused but haunted. 
   While I was cleaning up the theater I asked a friend what he thought of the movie and he said 'I think it was just a way to show how those people were living in that slum and they could have said that in 15 minutes'.   I have to agree that the storyline felt like it was there to serve the larger purpose of educating the viewer about the conditions in the Smokey Mountain slums and yet I am still haunted by some of the most striking cinematography I have seen in a movie. 
  Thanks for reading and as always your comments are welcome..  yona c. riel

William Burroughs, The Man Within

   Last night I saw a documentary about the life of William S. Burroughs who was famous for all the things one should not be famous for; he shot his wife, he was queer and he spent most of his life addicted to heroin.  He also wrote several books and along with Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac birthed the famed and subversive beat poet movement.
     William Burroughs was born in 1914.  He came from a wealthy family (his grandfather invented the adding machine) and spent most of his life living on a stipend.  Burroughs had a Harvard education and as John Waters said it is often the people with the most privileges who become the most subversive. 
    In 1951 after being busted a second time for narcotics he and his wife moved to Mexico City.  It was there that Burroughs, in a drunken game of William Tell, accidently shot and killed his wife.   Not one to express emotion Burroughs exiled himself to Morocco and spent till 1959 writing the book "Naked Lunch".  Filled with scenes of male prostitutes, strangulation during sex and ejaculating penises it was banned in the United States until it was heard by the Supreme Court in a famous first amendment trial in 1966.  After winning the trial the book was widely published and made William Burroughs an instant cult hero.  
    What made this documentary about Burroughs interesting to me is the film maker tried to get to what was inside of the man.  Though he was revered by Patti Smith and others as the godfather of punk music scene he never identified as such.  He was also revered by John Waters and others as the person who began the queer rights movement but again he never identified as queer.  Burroughs was ultimately a man unto himself and we are lead by the film maker to believe he suffered considerable remorse, not only for killing his wife but for the premature death of his only son who in order to be acknowledged by Burroughs emulated him (drinking too much and using drugs) and died of liver failure at the age of 32. 
   Many people will remember that one of Burroughs methods for writing was the use of cutting up segments and then re-forming them into poetry.  Later in life he developed another technique that wasn't so successful or known.   Out in his yard he would place a can of spray paint in front of a canvas then step back several feet and shoot a hole in the can releasing the paint onto the canvas.  Apparently Burroughs always had a great love of guns...
   Towards the end of the movie John Waters said 'for misfits Burroughs was almost a religious figure'.  Patti Smith said 'in his last year of life he became lovable', though earlier in the movie she professed to have always been madly in love with him.  William Burroughs died 6 months after Allen Ginsberg in 1997 and it was widely believed they were not only best of friends, cohorts with a lifelong shared past but soul mates. 
  In the final scene of the movie there is a note written by Burroughs simply saying "Love - the most natural painkiller there is". 
   Thanks for reading...  Yona C. Riel

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Real Anne Lister

  My cousin was recently, after her return from Czech Republic and Slovakia, drilling her blog readers asking where are all the industrious, creative, enterprising women in Eastern European history.  If eastern europe is anything like England, women who lived outside the boundaries of a normal life were buried, either by the changing of facts or in the case of Anne Lister in the walls of the mansion owned by her family.  In her lifetime Anne Lister wrote more than 4 million words, all in a code she invented based on Greek letters and algebra.

    Lister's diaries were first discovered a hundred years after they were buried by her relative John Lister while remodeling.  He had them decoded in the late 1890's by his friend Arther Bourroughs.  Both were shocked that Anne wrote so freely about her homoerotic daillances with several women during her short 46 year lifetime.  John, also a homosexual, became paranoid and pleaded with Arther to destroy the diaries.  Fortunately he did not.  But John did succeed in preventing the diaries from being published. 
   The next time someone would try to publish the diaries was in the 1960's when a woman named Muriel Green found them locked deep in the library in the city of Halifax, England.  The library (who for whatever reason had the rights to the diaries) refused claiming they would tarnish the good reputation of the town.
   It wasn't until 1988 that Helena Whitbread, after 7 years of painstaking research, that the diaries were finally published.
  During her lifetime Anne Lister was not only a lesbian (she discovered this at 13 years old) but a landowner, an industialist, a coal miner, and the writer of 4 million words, all things that were unheard of for women during the Regency period in England (the 1800s).  On top of all that she married and lived with her female companion most of her adult life and died when they were touring Europe together after she was bitten by an infected tick.   It took her wife 6 months to get Anne's body back to her home in Halifax England where both she and her diaries were buried.
    I am not the least bit shocked it took over 200 yrs to get Anne Lister's story out of the closet.   Part of what I love about this film festival is that stories like this are unveiled.  I am eager to continue to go to the LGBT film festival in the years to come to see what other gems, lives and secrets surface.   Thanks for reading....  tomorrow I review an interesting 'gender-bending' brazilian film call Elvis and Madonna.  Yona c. riel

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister....

  ... was the opening night film for the SF LGBT film festival this year and it did not disappoint.  The photography brought me right to England with a dark blue sky and several scenes taking place in a vast of greenery, including the first sex scene.  The clothing, empire waists for the women and britches with knee-highs boots for the men, apparently popular in the early 1800's was also flawless.  But what really made the movie work was the story of a hard-headed woman who fought against all odds for what she believed in and the right to be with the woman she loved long before the word feminist had ever been uttered.

    Anne Lister was born into a wealthy family and coal was discovered on the land she inherited.  Instead of giving in to her neighbor (who also became a fierce competitor after she refused to marry him) she went into the coal mining business though she knew nothing about it.  This allowed her an economic independence unknown to women in that time period.  Also despite advise from her aunt and uncle against it, she 'married' a female companion.  This in a time when one could be burnt at the stake for less.
   When the director was on stage introducing the film he told a story about a young woman who after seeing "The Diaries of Anne Lister" became brave enough to come out to her family.  I too feel brave after seeing it, and privileged to live in a time where we almost have the right to marry.
   The movie was produced by the BBC and came about because a librarian in the 1970's 'decoded' the diaries kept by Anne Lister.  If you are interested in seeing it you may be able to find it on the BBC channel or order it from
   This morning we are seeing a documentary called "The real Anne Lister".  I do hope it tells the story of the librarian.   I'll have an update for you later..  Thanks for reading.  yona c. riel

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Day one, LGBT film festival....

  Tonight is opening night for the LGBT film festival in San Fransisco and this year the first movie is 'The secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister'.  Based on a real life Anne Lister, a gentle-woman who lived during the early 19th century (born in 1791) and preferred the 'fairer sex' the film documents her conquests of which she wrote about in a coded diary.

   Produced by the BBS (always a good sign) and reminiscent of a Sarah Waters book  (The Fingersmith, Tipping the Velvet and Affinity, all meticulously researched novels about lesbians in the early 19th century) The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister promises to be a great movie.
  Just in case it gets sold out and I don't get to watch the movie I am working a film tomorrow morning called 'The Real Anne Lister".  So either way I will have a little update for you then...
    Okay, off I go for a waltz through my favorite parts of San Francisco...  yona c. riel

Saturday, June 12, 2010

DeLo's Wild party (with Eric Stern of Vagabond Opera....)

     It all started on May 9th when Delona (aka DeLo) and I went to see Vagabond Opera's first ever full length opera.  It was mother's day (the only time I could get up to Portland) and we sat in a small theater with some of Portland's finest steampunks to watch the 'Queen of Knives'. 
   Unbeknownst to me DeLo was newly divorced and very happy about it.  So happy that she bought 20 dollars worth of raffle tickets after the show.  The grand prize was a 2 hours serenade by Eric Stern (the lead person behind VO) and he would come to your house.  Eric is an amazing opera singer with years of professional training.  He is also one of my favorite accordionist and piano players.    
    A few weeks later DeLo announced, heart-throbbing across my computer screen that she had won.  Plans were made for a garden party on the night of June 11th.  
      I left Eugene around noon figuring I would stop in Salem and see an art show on the way up.  I also figured I could help DeLo get ready for the party.  Instead I got lost.  (She admits to having one of the weirdest addresses in Portland which confounds even the most intelligent GPS).  Instead of fighting with myself I called and asked for help.  DeLo sent this fine young lady to rescue me.
    Turns out Tanya had been there most the day helping DeLo get ready.   I was grateful that I didn't have to figure out how to get there myself. 
    Of the three of us not one could remember when the party was supposed to start so by 6pm we were ready for anything.  Well almost anything. 
    DeLo has a couple of guys who rent from her and they all share the gorgeous yard.  One of them was cooking up a delicious paella.   That's him with the silver hair and the beautiful shirt...
     We sat mingling, eating and drinking more than we should have when DeLo's phone rings.  I somehow know that it is Eric and because it's now past 8pm I also know he is lost.  He was only a few minutes away and there was plenty of conversation and food to keep us busy.  About 10 minutes later Eric comes in....
    and almost immediately started playing his magnificent accordion.   I went into instant drool as I watched his huge hands reach the most difficult chords with ease.  To give you a sense of his size the guy in the plaid shirt (Helmut) showing his wife Ida a picture on his camera is 6'5" and a German football player. 
    I couldn't restrain myself so I asked Eric in the first few minutes if he would play his Marlena Dietrich song.  He said he would but not yet.  He had to get warmed up. 
    Eric played for a good hour out in the garden.  I later found out he can sing in more than 5 languages and speaks 4 fluently.  So we heard some Italian favorites, a few originals and a bit of klezmer.  When he started to play a tango, DeLo grabbed her most recent beau and they tango-ed across the kitchen floor....
    Then there was the piano.  It was beautiful and black and just waiting for Eric's hands to seduce it.
    And seduce it he did!  The first song he played (very theatrically) was my favorite 'The Transformation into Marlena'.  If you can imagine Eric, a 6'3" manly sort of man transforming himself into the 1940's German nightclub singer, Marlena Dietrich, the music accentuating the transformation with perfectly timed dramatic pauses, then you will get a sense of how amused we all were by his performance.   I wish I knew how to embed the song into the blog but I don't so hit this link and you can watch a live performance 
   Eric played for another hour or so and I tryed to get the perfect picture of his hands reflecting in the shiny black piano...

    But drama was brewing in the background.....
   DeLo gathered us all into the living room.  Even Eric stopped playing the piano.  
   All evening Candace had been animated while she chattered stories about her kid, her dog and her job.  I had never met her before so I interpreted this behavior as a woman who likes to talk about herself.  But suddenly with everyone hushed and hustled into the living room, Candace seizing her moment slids down onto her knees and proposes marriage to the young man she'd been dating for 3 months.  He had no idea what was coming.... 
   When he said yes she rose to her feet, handed the glasses of champagne to DeLo and kissed him passionately.  Meanwhile Eric picked up the accordion and played Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire". 
"Burn, burn, burn, it's a burning ring of fire.... "
        By this point DeLo was beautifully lit and the evening reached it's climatic moment. 
One last parting shot...
  it's me and my favorite opera singer complete with priceless expressions.  Thanks for reading and I hope you had a good time vicariously at Delo's Wild party...   yona c. riel

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Day 13 ...The Journey home..

    I intended on driving straight through from San Fransisco to Eugene via I-5 but when I discovered this weird little cut off on my map I took it.  I had been on the road for almost two weeks by this time and driving home proved to be more tiring than I had thought it would.  And I-5 has to one of the most boring drives ever.  Does anybody else feel this way or have I driven it way too many times.
    I discovered a sweet little town on this serendipitous detour called Shasta.  The town had some beautiful old ruins right in the middle of town so of course I had to stop and take some pictures.  According to the sign this was a bank in a once thriving gold mining town.  
     As you can see on the sign below Shasta was quite the town in it's day.  The sign says "by 1854, Shasta was home to California's longest row of brick buildings north of San Fransisco."
    I took a several shots of the ruins but this next one turned out to be one of my favorites...
     As you can see the town has spent the money to retrofit the brick buildings with huge steel rods.

     I love surprises like this.  Makes me want to drive ONLY on roads I have never been on before.  But I was headed home so after a few hours of winding through the mountains I landed in Arcata for the night.  I was really hoping for a sweet deal on a good but cheap motel room but I was too tired to look much further than the first one I saw. 
   After getting settled in the room I walked a few doors up and had a delicious quesadilla and a beer.   The next morning I headed north up Interstate 1 and soon found a beautiful beach to stop at.  Since I was ending my journey soon I took this shot to symbolize it.  Footsteps in the sand leading to a rock mountain says it all...
    Even though I needed to get home I knew I wasn't going to see the ocean for awhile so I hung out a little longer and snatched a few more shots.   I thought the tire made for an interesting focal point...
     And below is the site of a beach sculpture I once made years ago.  The sculpture has long since been washed out to sea and now there is graffiti to take it's place...

    I continued up Highway One.  Fortunate for me it was a beautiful day making for a nice welcome back to Oregon.   I resorted to a 'drive-by shooting' for the bridge you see below...
    Even though I slept well in Arcata I was still tired and anxious too.  I got home about 6 that night and quickly jumped into the bathtub,  leaving the unpacking of my loaded to the top vehicle for when I woke up... 
    Thanks for following me on my birthday road trip. You all were such great company.   And as always your comments are welcomed and appreciated...  xo  yona c. riel