JANE of the oasis : GRACE and GENEROSITY

Jane Van Lehr

later Grunt, and Smith  –  in memoriam

As I write these two words, ’‘in memoriam,”  my brain moves to details I remember, about meeting Jane and becoming friends to the end of our days. Yet, single facts are the opposite of what I want. Here I’m only bringing up my “brief little dreams” about her, hoping they can explode like flowers of dandelion when a child blows on their fragile globes: heads covered with tiny soft stars, white, that spread everywhere in the wind not far from the ground.

That’s what Jane was, a field of energy planting seeds inside people around her, into the ground of the desert.  Her attachment to the land, and to her family history as a blooming garden of humans and trees, moves the past into the present and gives roots to the future. Her memorial was the epic of an extraordinary figure of a woman never tired of learning, giving, and improving the juice of life. And, at the same time, the least conventional. She was dancing by the pool with her daughter the evening before she died. Friendship was a secret pleasure without embellishment, or explanations. A sharing for real, no safety belt.

Even during the memorial it wasn’t possible to elude the impression she was sowing a new garden of connections  passing me on to her five sons and daughters, and to their proliferation as fathers and mothers. For the first time I met her two sisters. They are equals to Jane in intensity, grace and generosity. One had eight children, the other nine.

29 Palms Inn, The Pond

A long time ago Jane decided to produce bread for the Inn, family and guests, sourdough bread of course, but how to make it? She found a French chef, invited him to teach the technique, and the Inn has fresh sourdough bread every day since. All the facets of women’s lives dismissed or underestimated because careers and professional skills -by necessity- erase them from the personal storyboard, were valuable, intact treasures in Jane’s hardworking days. One day in August, 120 degrees in the garden, I helped to clean a big quantity of mesquite pods, because Jane wanted to  transform them into flour like Native Americans do. Her oasis is an ancient Native American site.

29 Palms Inn, Oasis

The wave of energy that for me started with Jane, became an ocean after she moved to eternity. Waves follow one another gently overlapping, they never stop. Same bad habit time has. The memorial turned into an island of kindness. Running tears and smiles and enchanting youngsters: one of them, a five year old girl with dark hair and big open dark eyes, not afraid to shoot them in my face, touched my heart. The same fearless gaze as Jane. It was, it is, a face to face conversation stripped of words: who are you as a human being?

 Little Gwyneth helped my pick up colors and paper to make washi flowers for grandmother’s ashes. Behind the couch where we were working, the box with the ashes was looking at us. It had migrated from the main house to another residence of the Inn. I was surprised and pleased seeing Jane’s remains move through the oasis where she was born, lived and didn’t say goodbye. With them next to us, we all worked as much as we could. Jane gone? not at all. Each inch of the garden, each step of the cabins, the old friendly furniture reverberate her figure, they will keep her myth alive.

Myths are the souls of our actions and our loves. We cannot act without moving toward a phantom. We can love only what we create.  —Paul Valéry

The garden of Jane is unexpected in the desert. The metal gate was designed by an artist. The soil grows mint, thyme, basil, parsley, grapes, lettuce, cabbage, pumpkin, zucchini, fava beans, figs, and pears. This year grapes were promising, I took a picture of her hand thanking the plant. With Jane I picked zucchini blossoms and cooked them for her birthday. Exchanging recipes, stories, and cooking together we built friendly moments of happiness from which time flies away, and the beauty of being human stays.

29 Palms Inn, Boat in the pond

I’m dreaming that early in the morning, when she squeezed her soul out of her body, she flew to the boat house in which she had spent years with husband and four children on the ocean water. Moving back to the oasis with the whole family to continue her father’s  commitment in keeping the Inn running, she brought the boat with her, and placed her in the pond. It is the only monument in that place, a boat impregnated with the growth of young lives. On July 22 she took the boat with her one more time, likely a light aerial replica, and happily left, to explore infinity. 

Holding her hand, I thank every second of my present, past and future. Sometimes I think back, in some fleeting delusional  flights, on the smell of African and oriental spices of my favorite drugstore in Paris. I know she would love it.


LA Louver on-line exhibition

2015-2020 Five years of Matt Wedel painting potted plants

gouaches on paper

“I have been painting these potted plants over the past five years. They seem to be about my mother who is a gardener and my father who is a potter. They remind me to be in the garden, or to make a garden. They are a reminder to celebrate that garden and learn about other ways to be alive in the world. In many ways they are not about being art at all. They are about finding ways to exist.”

— Matt Wedel


by Rosanna Albertini

Memories are dull.  The present scene is red. I still am trying to understand my mother, rethinking untold stories. If red is blood it must be invisible, said Jochen Gerz from his conceptual fantasy, otherwise it stains everything. That’s why along with his students he lifted each stone in the municipal square during the night and engraved them with the names of the Jewish cemeteries near the extermination camps in Germany, then put the stones back in place —their engraved face on the ground— as if nothing had happened. German people did not know they walked over their manipulated memory. Memory is like blood, it must be stopped from running. 

It’s May 4th, 2005. In the Kurdish city of Irbil a street is streaked with the blood of job seekers: one of the daily suicide attacks in Iraq. The soldiers’ boots are splashed with blood. It is the same red of the flag that carried socialist ideals for half a century, my little stamps on the cover of my blue Catholic doctrine book were red; but now, right now I see each of these images as a spring of lifeless memory. Every day human blood runs on the ground somewhere and soaks the first toast of my breakfast. No news anymore, no movies, ketchup please, mayo and chocolate, Paul McCarthy is a prophet. Since Cain and Abel, this is how war works. I scream against such massacres of human grace by myself, my blood vessels cry through the skin. 

Footprints trod on the page. Please mother, go away. She doesn’t. She mails me a baby clothe for my recently born daughter: a white shirt with tiny red dots. Something is wrong in that red for a newborn girl, as if the color punctuated our distance as well as inevitable blood links. Her skin, I can touch it on me. The eyes instead —the ones I found in pictures— are never present in that instant, as if they were moving her away from her own face. Invisible, her blood flows in me. It is the only undeniable connection, a thread impossible to break despite the stories that the mind brings up justifying abandonment, long nights and days on the train from North to South and back, by myself, hugging a pillow. I am twelve, thirteen, fourteen… Next to me faces of immigrants coming home from Germany. None of us knows if home is there, at the end of the trip. 

The curtain is pulled through the open window, it barely trembles. Sunlight, and rumbling noise from the freeway, and bird screeches interrupted by silly mocking birds who imitate snoring early in the morning, make a sort of density, a rumor kept outside by the curtain that I see like a luminous screen, vibrating and warming.  Yes Kristin, for the first time I understand why you painted on canvas a big, vertical curtain with little flowers blue and green. The painting is an absorbing screen raised to take time, asking things from the world not to come in for a while. Let us veil their impact. Maybe the Muslim veil that covers the women’s face allowing them to see through, while keeping them perfectly hidden, is much more than a discriminatory symbol. It could be a privilege.

Not to be seen anymore is the reason one leaves, not to be regarded by people who are only partially in touch with our life.  I have been biting my tail going away by degrees over decades, while the story which is mine followed me like an unknown ghost. I see why people do not usually leave their hometown or their country unless their roots have been snatched and pulled out. When they do, they often move as if they were inside a diving suit that makes their movements slow and uncertain, as if air were water.

It took me a remarkable number of years to realize how strongly my eyes have been wide shut to the ghost story that was glued to me like a shadow. I had to adapt my sense of space to the New World’s sky, my nervous system to the soil’s vibrations, my mouth to the tongue, my whole perception to an American story that seemed to be forever new. I was yearning for the excitement of the new —a curse that makes me think of my own death as the very last adventure.  You float over your worn out body, mother, and fly god knows where. Will I join you? Instead of receiving food from you, or dresses that I did not like, I would rest with you on an apricot tree. We rest and laugh, hidden by the foliage. Your body was your screen, wasn’t it?

 She smiles like Alice’s cat, her smile expands in the air until there is nothing else than an impression of her. She is back being an absence. I can only sing through her genes, enumerating the few keys she gave me to understand her mysterious withdrawing —most likely not knowing she was doing so.  A movie and an opera have become indelible detective stories in my mind. My mother’s pink lipstick was also indelible. The cream for her face —why am I remembering such details?— was named from herbs and leaves: “botana.”

Alberto Albertini : LAST CHANCE


Alberto on a rock


I’ve always strongly disliked memories because time doesn’t exist. Memories, illusion: as if we could bring the past back. If time doesn’t exist, it’s obvious. The instant of our present is short, infinitely short like a film, only existing when the film frame encounters the small window of light. We do know there is a story within the film reel, go get it! If you have a film, you can project it again. You can’t do the same in real life. Although memories are there, to think of living  them again is nothing but frustration. Only the present, whatever the situation, is life, and thanks to our endless reaction times we are lucky enough to feel the present longer than an instant. For the vagabond each sip of beer is an instant, a sequence of instants extends the present. Past and future are always in the present. Being a moderate beer drinker, I chop onions and write this. 

Forgotten Garden


We used to walk through Corso Magenta to save the tramway fare, myself and some companions. Dirty jokes they told to each other were beyond my understanding, I was so different, their talking was strange. One of them was happy because for Christmas he was going to receive the balilla moschettiere gloves! [part of the uniform of fascist youth] Another was expecting a pair of shoes: for Christmas! That is something to buy when needed. 

My uniqueness was in trouble when Gloria was with us. A complex work. Gloria —her name was the same as the movie theater of the neighborhood—  used to appear and disappear, only randomly she strolled with us in Corso Magenta, yet to me she represented an exceptional presence of uniqueness. First her physical presence completely oblivious to me, and second my imagination about her which was strange because after all I didn’t often think of her nor for long, but I was waiting for her. Gloria was a girl with straight hair short enough not to touch her shoulders, and she was easy, mature, among the talk of her walking peers. 

It is hard for me to understand the key to her charm. As she was intermittently with us, I wasn’t allowed to know her better, but first of all it was me who had transposed her person into a story of an adult woman about to behave like an emancipated woman knowing who she is, able to run life and passions without reticence. Was it then that I perceived her, or now that I resurrect her eighty years later? Maybe Gloria never existed, I invented her in my unconscious, the unconscious invented her. 

First year after the end of fascism – Albertos’ journal


Giorgio had become a friend of mine after we spent so much time to design the recording studio that a song writer wanted to prepare for his sons in Rome. I met him again in Merano; instead of taking a vacation he was having a second job with P, the head of a studio that recorded and published Tyrolean and local groups’ music.  If I was going to P, I did it in order to sell equipment. P’s wife was interesting: a true lady of the Serenissima [Venice], she stood out, conducting herself as if she were the Doge’s wife, shapely without excess. I couldn’t understand why her husband wouldn’t consider her as a woman or as a secretary.

In the evening we went for dinner at a castle over Merano: myself, Giorgio, P’s wife and someone else, but not P.

On the way back, Giorgio with P’s beautiful wife brought me to my hotel and he left with her.  

The following day I congratulated Giorgio and asked: is P disregarding his wife because he is homosexual? No, absolutely not! He has fun with the young girls that come to the studio. 

City of Rome


A strange survival instinct often pushes human beings to turn themselves inside out trying to justify things they might complain about. Thinking of imaginary compensation, they keep their resentment quiet and often accept to be exploited, abused, cheated.  Only when the pressure goes beyond the limits, rage explodes, maybe even stronger than necessary.    

We kept living quietly as long as possible, and the creeping regime exploited this, of course. It’s not a mystery that jokes about the regime in the fascist era not only were tolerated, but also sent out from the regime itself. Giving vent to the discontent, while the regime kept going undisturbed. It comes back to my mind when I hear or receive jokes, often very beautiful, on our present creeping regime. Here it is, could our intense on line communications  be a verbal vent good to console, making us able to endure? 

Why is the talk of action missing, now? 

Fort Lauerdale
United States of America

SILENCE OF ONIONS – by Rosanna Albertini

First time Alberto stuck in my memory was the day his father, my grandfather, ended his journey on earth. It was summer. In the field next to our garden there was a small, temporary amusement park not worth noticing except it was noisy. The dismay among the living people in the house translated into equally noisy complaints that I found annoying. I was seven years old. The whole house from basement to the roof was pervaded by a sense of control: flowers! To me: go to your friend’s houses and ask for as many flowers as you can. It was a way to keep me out. We were like bees buzzing around the room where the only significant person of that day lay still on the bed, dressed up as in winter, with socks but no shoes.

That dead copy of my grandfather wasn’t interesting at all for me. But, I knew the real one was gone, probably flying to paradise with mountain boots on his feet, and naked like god had made him. I was so angry nobody mentioned him. It was a tragedy in which the characters couldn’t speak out the core of the story. I didn’t spill one tear. In the kitchen I found some people sitting around the table, grandmother and Alberto among them. Alberto’s eyes were red and puffy, no doubt he had spread many tears. Implacably dry, my little person asked him bluntly: why did you cry? He was silent. Grandmother answered for him: he was chopping onions.