Thursday, March 8, 2012


VIRGIN AND CHILD, c. 1125-50
photo: Sharon Mollerus

What little I know of popular culture, and even of other people’s blogs, comes from friends, links people send me, serendipity. I have plenty of time where I “wander,” literally and figuratively, but the wandering is always with a purpose. I don’t ever just while away an afternoon doing nothing, even if I’m “doing nothing.” So one of the nice things about being away from L.A. is that little chunks of time open up where I am able to wander the internet a bit more than I usually do.

To wit, a friend sent me a photo of the Virgin and Child, no attribution, that we both liked because, unlike so many Madonna and Child statues, Mary and the kid actually looked complex and real. So I started googling and learned fairly quickly that the statue was in Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and next thing I knew I’d happened upon a blog called Studio and Garden, which is written by a visual artist named Altoon Sultan who lives in Vermont, and next thing after that I was scrolling through post after post, fascinated.

photo: Altoon Sultan
Altoon takes pictures of cobweb-festooned windows and turkey tracks in the snow, and hooks “ruglets,” and paints with home-made egg tempera in her studio, and grows all her own vegetables and keeps her seed packets in alphabetical order and has turnips, several kinds of potatoes, cabbages, again in neat order, in the cold cellar. She periodically jaunts down to NYC to take in museum exhibits which she reports back on, with photos, all in the most engaging way.

I was captivated by a book of Tantric paintings she recently described.

She also cooks.

Altoon lives the life a teeny part of me has always thought I should live, or might have lived if I’d stayed in New England: in a country farmhouse, with a fireplace, many birdfeeders, and a big old-fashioned kitchen. It’s not that I have no capacity to learn practical skills like splitting wood or digging a garden; it’s that experience has shown after an hour or so I want to lie down and read, or make a cup of coffee and gaze  out the window, and that while I love fingerling potatoes, heirloom tomatoes, and exotic strains of arugula as much as the next person, really when push comes to shove, I am just as glad to buy them at the Hollywood Farmer’s Market or for that matter, the 99-Cent Only store on Sunset Boulevard and Micheltorena.

Also, I like to have a center. I like to have a place in the middle—a downtown, a teeming hub—that I can walk away from. I like to have something to push against. Every time I go back to New Hampshire (my homeland), for the first couple of days I think, I love it here! I could live here! I should move back! And then around Day Four something kicks in: the feeling I had as a kid of being trapped, of wanting to kick out the traces, of longing to live among people who are openly ruining themselves, or committing crimes, or engaged in some kind of desperately compulsive music or art; around Day Four, I'm consumed by existential nostalgia for a land where I have never lived, and am never going to live, yet seem to have spent my life looking for...

Still, I loved meandering around Altoon’s blog. She’s a wonderful writer, she has a wonderful eye, and if you have a blog yourself, you know the almost maniacal energy/drive/love required to post every other day.

I may have been inspired by Altoon’s blog to look for a picture of Siros, Greece, where I spent several extremely hazy weeks drinking retsina at the High Life Café during the late 1970’s. Because I then stumbled upon another blog called piran café: a trampfest.

"08-Sep-2007, Zurich. A very hard call. For the time being I’m going with this shot, mainly because it was something that I clearly wasn’t expecting. I was simply hoping to get a quick snap of the woman on a cigarette break, and then remember being a bit upset when the car drove by. I couldn’t have planned the positioning if I tried."

Now this guy is a completely different animal than Altoon: a journalist who lives in Ljubljana, Slovenia (I enjoyed learning where that was, and riffling through photos of Piran, which is a seaside city that looks kind of scruffy and divine), and at the time (back in January) I discovered him had just quit smoking, and who jets, rides, walks, and tramps about the world with another kind of beautiful eye: for the offbeat, the violent, the politically unrestive, the urban (and occasionally the pastoral), the paradoxical.

From his "About" page:

There is no real Piran Café, nor is this one located in Piran, the millennium-old Adriatic seaside city that rests at the tip of a peninsula at the easternmost edge of Slovenia. This one is actually sits in Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital, some 130 kms from Piran. I once seriously considered opening a café in a relatively quiet seaside setting, where I would graciously host weary travelers, underemployed artists and musicians, poets, priests, prisoners and politicians, and other voices of desperate illumination. That real Piran Café is now the destination.

Based in Ljubljana, I travel quite a bit as a reporter, primarily around Europe. But you won’t find anything remotely related to my professional life here. Cafés are necessary escapes and roadside rest stops. My passions include travel, art, design, innovation, photography, museums, wine and sushi. Politics usually lurk nearby. More recently, I’ve taken a keen interest to issues of migration and immigration, particularly in Europe. When they and I cross paths, those are some of the things you’ll find here. And plenty of personal bookmarks on wide-ranging topics that happen to fall within the wide parameters of my obsessions at any given time.

Sample posts: “First Photos of China’s 298-Million-Year-Old Buried Forest,” “Daegu [South Korea] Notebook,” “On Cultivating a Sense of Humility While On the Road,” and “Agent Orange’s Golden Anniversary” in which Bob R. (that's as far as he identifies himself) visited and took photos of the children who live at Lang Hoa Binh Than Xuan, an orphanage, school and clinic in Hanoi set up specifically for victims of Agent Orange. He’s also a great videographer ( samples here include "Sarajevo Siege Tour," "Rabat Quickie," "Feeding Time," "Holy Saturday," and "ego trip (Train II"...)

This is another type of life I “might” have lived or have liked to live except for the fact that constant travel would unsettle me to the point of psychosis. But I love to read about other people’s travels and this guy totally gets what is interesting, what is corrupt, what is beautiful, what is human. And again, to keep a blog like that up and running takes a tremendous amount of labor, thought, and heart.

                                               VALIA CARMONDS CIRCA DEC. 11, 2008 [SEE POST]  
So those are two very different alter egos, and I admire the work and lives of their creators and I also marvel at the way we find our way, if we are lucky and don’t mind taking many wrong turns in the process, to exactly where we are “supposed” to be.

If we are lucky, we all find our way to the incessantly unfolding life that is tailor-made for us.


  1. Hi Heather,
    I enjoyed this post. I've come to understand something similar about myself - that I often admire the life other folks have fashioned for themselves, and even daydream about living like that too, or even try it out, only to find it isn't me. This used to disappoint me and give me a sort of existential dissatisfaction until I realized that how I like to live is chock full of merits too. Still, blogs are such a great way to appreciate the myriad beautiful ways that humans express their divine spark. They are one of my favorite things about the internet.

  2. Thanks Heather, I love finding little blogs that are gems. I especially like blogs that zero in on the little things in life and help us to see the beauty in things we take for granted. This blog is like that, the photos are gorgeous and make me want to move to the country:

  3. Heather,
    Just wanted to share a belated but nonetheless sincere thank you for your kind words about Piran Cafe. VERY much appreciated.

    By the way, you'll be happy to know that the block on your blog in Turkey was apparently only limited to wifi at the Sheraton Atakoy in Istanbul. :)

    Be well,

  4. Oh that damn Sheraton Atakoy--the wifi there always HAS been spotty!... :)

    I'm thrilled even one person read a post of mine from Istanbul. As I told Altoon, the other gal whose blog I wrote about, what I love is contemplating the world within or beyond or alongside this one...that's what I see in piran cafe as well--safe travels and happy writing to you, Bob...

  5. I really enjoyed this. It was like taking a virtual trip. And a soothing one at that.

    I idly surf the internet-and, I have find not blogs, but, just interesting studies of philosophy- and, they weren't boring:)

    Alter egos: sometimes I think I have many. God help the world!


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