Thursday, September 21, 2017

Culture

My conversation with Angelina Jolie last Saturday, September 9th at Toronto’s acclaimed International Film Festival (TIFF) was personal. Even though I had come to hear her speak in CBC’s (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) Glenn Gould Studio with 200 people as part of TIFF’s annual In Conversation Series, Angelina said something that won my heart. Clearly passionate about her new role in film and what she intended to do, Angelina said:

I love diversity and believe our world is stronger for it. We have so much to share with each other and it’s the greatest way to deeply learn and create together.

Toronto International Film Festival, TIFF, In Conversation With, Angelina Jolie, Artistic Director of TIFF, Cameron Bailey, cultural diversity, Girl Interrupted, Gia, Maleficent, Unbroken, The Breadwinner, Louis Zamperini, In the Land of Blood and Honey, Bosnia, Yugoslavia, First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, Khmer Rouge, Jon Voight, Marcheline Bertrand, Changeling, A Mighty Heart, Disney, Sleeping Beauty, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, UN Ambassador, global activist, Lee Strasberg, Jonny Lee Miller, Billy Bob Thornton, Brad Pitt,This message is the essence of WomanScape – building cultural connections for learning and growing together! I sat riveted. And, over the course of this hour-long interview with TIFF’s artistic director Cameron Bailey, I escaped into Angelina’s world. Bailey’s job was formidable. He avoided the impossible task of listing the more than 48 movies Angelina has appeared in. Instead, he highlighted her most prominent accomplishments as an actor, director and humanitarian.

Angelina’s Acting Career

Dressed in a simple loose fitting white shirt and a long matching skirt that floated around her feet, Angelina was ethereal. She sat very still when the movie screen behind her flashed film clips that accompanied Bailey’s references to her mounting film credits. Not once did Angelina turn around during excerpts like this one below with Whoopi Goldberg. This was not the wild-child actress of years ago, or some Brangelina figure.

Toronto International Film Festival, TIFF, In Conversation With, Angelina Jolie, Artistic Director of TIFF, Cameron Bailey, cultural diversity, Girl Interrupted, Gia, Maleficent, Unbroken, The Breadwinner, Louis Zamperini, In the Land of Blood and Honey, Bosnia, Yugoslavia, First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, Khmer Rouge, Jon Voight, Marcheline Bertrand, Changeling, A Mighty Heart, Disney, Sleeping Beauty, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, UN Ambassador, global activist, Lee Strasberg, Jonny Lee Miller, Billy Bob Thornton, Brad Pitt,

No, Angelina’s composure and graceful movements matched her deliberately thoughtful and insightful answers. I confess, like most people, that I was curious to know who Angelina really was, in lieu of the fanfare surrounding her celebrity status in Hollywood. For years, we’ve seen photos of her beauty and tabloid-fodder stories that rip apart her past marriages to fellow actors Johnny Lee Miller, Billy Bob Thornton and, until recently, Brad Pitt.

In many ways, I think this history has eclipsed her acting artistry and philanthropy. It is a far cry from the UN Ambassador and decorated global activist who started humbly as a young theater student-in-training with Lee Strasberg in New York. Angelina’s stardom happened quickly, after movies like the 1998 film Gia (about a model hooked on cocaine) garnered attention.  It showcased her depth of emotion, opening the door to more opportunities like the action hero figure she played in 2001, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. This led to a massive fan base and broad audience appeal, while opening the door to more serious dramatic roles and award, like her severe paranoia character in Girl Interrupted.

Dramatic scripts and meatier roles in movies like the Changeling and A Mighty Heart took her to new heights. In her personal life, Angelina adopted children from several international countries while also giving birth to children of her own. This likely influenced Angelina as she stepped into the world of Disney’s adaptation of Sleeping Beauty. The wide-eyed face and radiant smile that I saw on stage at TIFF was an equally captivating and scary sorceress in Maleficent (shown below). Angelina had become a very self-aware and seasoned professional.

Angelina as Director

Toronto International Film Festival, TIFF, In Conversation With, Angelina Jolie, Artistic Director of TIFF, Cameron Bailey, cultural diversity, Girl Interrupted, Gia, Maleficent, Unbroken, The Breadwinner, Louis Zamperini, In the Land of Blood and Honey, Bosnia, Yugoslavia, First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, Khmer Rouge, Jon Voight, Marcheline Bertrand, Changeling, A Mighty Heart, Disney, Sleeping Beauty, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, UN Ambassador, global activist, Lee Strasberg, Jonny Lee Miller, Billy Bob Thornton, Brad Pitt,So why the director chair? Angelina is the first to admit she never planned to move behind the camera when she started out in film. As the daughter of two film actors, Jon Voight and Marcheline Bertrand, Angelina felt destined to act. Her mother just assumed she would go into the family business. However, this changed when Angelina lost her mother to ovarian cancer at just 56 years of age in 2007.

This prompted new ideas and the kind of creative work we see in Angelina’s two films at TIFF. Both films directed by Angelina explore women from other countries. In the cover photo of this article, we see a clip from the BreadWinner. It is an animated feature about a young girl in Afghanistan who disguises herself as a boy to help her mother and sister. The other movie, First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, is a Netflix film about a child soldier in the Khmer Rouge regime in 1975. (Photo clip below is taken from the movie.)

Toronto International Film Festival, TIFF, In Conversation With, Angelina Jolie, Artistic Director of TIFF, Cameron Bailey, cultural diversity, Girl Interrupted, Gia, Maleficent, Unbroken, The Breadwinner, Louis Zamperini, In the Land of Blood and Honey, Bosnia, Yugoslavia, First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, Khmer Rouge, Jon Voight, Marcheline Bertrand, Changeling, A Mighty Heart, Disney, Sleeping Beauty, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, UN Ambassador, global activist, Lee Strasberg, Jonny Lee Miller, Billy Bob Thornton, Brad Pitt,

Angelina says several factors explain her desire to be behind the camera.  She slipped into directing her first film, In the Land of Blood and Honey, when she wanted to learn more about the war in Bosnia and the history of Yugoslavia. A self-proclaimed history buff, Angelina says she’s always been very aware of the macro picture in filming – crews working together, the direction of the cameras, stylized costume and language, etc. Watching actors use their words and seeing the trans-formative power of scripts created a keen interest in writing. Bringing all of these worlds together just seemed like the next thing to do.

Toronto International Film Festival, TIFF, In Conversation With, Angelina Jolie, Artistic Director of TIFF, Cameron Bailey, cultural diversity, Girl Interrupted, Gia, Maleficent, Unbroken, The Breadwinner, Louis Zamperini, In the Land of Blood and Honey, Bosnia, Yugoslavia, First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, Khmer Rouge, Jon Voight, Marcheline Bertrand, Changeling, A Mighty Heart, Disney, Sleeping Beauty, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, UN Ambassador, global activist, Lee Strasberg, Jonny Lee Miller, Billy Bob Thornton, Brad Pitt,What’s clear when you look at Angelina’s entire body of work, is the progressive maturing of her point of view. In her humanitarian work, she hopes to leave the world in a better way. She feels the weightiness of being a role model for other women and girls, and wants the dignity of all people to matter. Her focus on cultural history and stories from around the world illustrates where Angelina is headed.

For Angelina, art can help people find peace and resolution. She is one of a new breed of female directors powering their way to the top of the box offices. TIFF announced that it would make a five-year commitment to increasing opportunities for women behind and in front of the camera. Angelina is one of those women who believes her films can help humanity to learn to grieve, to heal and to be empowered. Unbroken is produced in 2014, and examines the true story of World War II hero, Louis Zamperini. Louis fights to survive the horrors of Japanese war camps.

At the conclusion of Angelina’s interview, she did something I never would have expected.  She stayed behind for more than 20 minutes signing autographs and taking selfie photos. Talk about truly moving behind the camera! It’s clear that Angelina wants to communicate with young people around the world.

Toronto International Film Festival, TIFF, In Conversation With, Angelina Jolie, Artistic Director of TIFF, Cameron Bailey, cultural diversity, Girl Interrupted, Gia, Maleficent, Unbroken, The Breadwinner, Louis Zamperini, In the Land of Blood and Honey, Bosnia, Yugoslavia, First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, Khmer Rouge, Jon Voight, Marcheline Bertrand, Changeling, A Mighty Heart, Disney, Sleeping Beauty, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, UN Ambassador, global activist, Lee Strasberg, Jonny Lee Miller, Billy Bob Thornton, Brad Pitt,

9/11, 911, National September 11 Memorial Museum, 911 Museum, New York City Reflecting Pools, global disasters, Canada, Spain, Iceland, natural disasters, Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, WomanScape, One World Trade Center, Marsh & McLennan, North Tower, South Tower, Afganisgtan, Iraq, War on Terror, Virgil, The Aeneid. Minoru Yamasaki, Come From Away, Broadway Tony Awards, Gander, Newfoundland, Peter Walker, numerologist, numerology, eternity, faith, service to humanity, spiritual enlightenment, selflessness, sacrifice, new beginnings, creation, striving forward, progress, the energies of positivity, oneness, racism, discrimination, Freedom Tower N145

Did you realize we dial 9-1-1 in an emergency and these are the exact numbers that recount one of the most tragic days in recent U.S. history?

Each year on 9/11, I remember the aftermath of lost souls while cherishing the 9-1-1 souls of the living. They are the world’s first responders. As emergency personnel, they sacrifice everything to keep us safe. Today’s article is dedicated to them. WomanScape thanks these brave professionals in the wake of looming and current global disasters. They are hope in the face of earthquakes in Mexico and Iceland, gale force winds from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and wildfires in Canada, Spain and California.

The Numbers From 9/11

My husband can see the unfolding horror from his office on the 45th floor of 1166 6th Avenue in New York. People are crying with wide-eyed faces pressed hard against the window panes. They see the smoke from the burning towers not knowing the fates of their company employees in One World Trade Center. More than 2 billion from around the world watch with them, via television or radio. It is

Monday, September 11, 2001.

The statistics of 9/11 are sobering. Nearly 300 of their brothers and sisters at Marsh & McLennan will never return home. Thousands of schools close in New York’s surrounding tri-state area, and hundreds of thousands of children are sent home. The 47 steel columns running through the 1,362 foot high towers from the North Tower and the South Tower crumble. When the jets from Flight 11 and Flight 175 hit, all 157 souls on board perish. The South Tower falls at 9:58 a.m. EST. The North Tower falls at 10:28 EST. Balls of fire erupt and burn for months.

By day’s end, the aftermath is:

  • 2,606 lost at the World Trade Center;
  • 246 lost in the air;
  • 125 lost in the Pentagon building;
  • 19 al-Qaeda hijackers lost; and,
  • 2,996 lost in total.

It takes 13 years for the National September 11 Memorial Museum to officially open in June of 2014. It sits on the crash site officials call Ground Zero.  The museum at 180 Greenwich Street is a permanent collection of artifacts and stories that continues to expand. The carnage from families destroyed reads like a runaway ticker-tape. The War on Terror signals the U.S. invasion into Afghanistan and Iraq. More families are torn apart and more math to tally.

9/11, 911, National September 11 Memorial Museum, 911 Museum, New York City Reflecting Pools, global disasters, Canada, Spain, Iceland, natural disasters, Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, WomanScape, One World Trade Center, Marsh & McLennan, North Tower, South Tower, Afganisgtan, Iraq, War on Terror, Virgil, The Aeneid. Minoru Yamasaki, Come From Away, Broadway Tony Awards, Gander, Newfoundland, Peter Walker, numerologist, numerology, eternity, faith, service to humanity, spiritual enlightenment, selflessness, sacrifice, new beginnings, creation, striving forward, progress, the energies of positivity, oneness, racism, discrimination, Freedom Tower N145

But when I do the math, the numbers take me away from the intimacy of each life lost. So each time I visit the museum, I make sure family and friends focus on the people who lived and died. I cry every time. This is especially true when I stand in front of the blue-tiled, concrete wall on the lower level of the museum. It is a giant tomb that separates visitors from nearly 8,000 unidentified human remains. It has become a controversial resting place of lives lost. But, it is impossible not to grieve when you read the inscription:

“No day shall erase you from the memory of time.”

9/11, 911, National September 11 Memorial Museum, 911 Museum, New York City Reflecting Pools, global disasters, Canada, Spain, Iceland, natural disasters, Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, WomanScape, One World Trade Center, Marsh & McLennan, North Tower, South Tower, Afganisgtan, Iraq, War on Terror, Virgil, The Aeneid. Minoru Yamasaki, Come From Away, Broadway Tony Awards, Gander, Newfoundland, Peter Walker, numerologist, numerology, eternity, faith, service to humanity, spiritual enlightenment, selflessness, sacrifice, new beginnings, creation, striving forward, progress, the energies of positivity, oneness, racism, discrimination, Freedom Tower N145

This photo taken from the 911 museum website depicts a quote from Virgil’s poem, the Aeneid. Although critics say the quote is incorrectly used, the spirit conveys the importance of every life. It is comforting to know time will not forget us. This is significant because the greatest loss of life from this foreign attack on American soil was the rescue personnel who responded to 9-1-1.

After the Math: The Land of the Living

9/11, 911, National September 11 Memorial Museum, 911 Museum, New York City Reflecting Pools, global disasters, Canada, Spain, Iceland, natural disasters, Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, WomanScape, One World Trade Center, Marsh & McLennan, North Tower, South Tower, Afganisgtan, Iraq, War on Terror, Virgil, The Aeneid. Minoru Yamasaki, Come From Away, Broadway Tony Awards, Gander, Newfoundland, Peter Walker, numerologist, numerology, eternity, faith, service to humanity, spiritual enlightenment, selflessness, sacrifice, new beginnings, creation, striving forward, progress, the energies of positivity, oneness, racism, discrimination, Freedom Tower N145This number is critical as our planet earth fights to survive chaos. We are inundated with increasing threats of violence from terrorists, and climate assaults by mother nature. So the physical constructs from the 9/11 museum offer some timely insights. The founding stone from the World Trade Center and the Reflecting Pools built in commemoration of lives lost during 9/11 are wonderful examples of the critical role and hope created by first responders.

The photo above is a quote by architect, Minoru Yamasaki. It reminds us that peace depends on our humanity and the spirit of cooperation. Although I’d like to change some of the wording such as “the cooperation of men” to read “all people”, the intent is about our collective working together. As we face mounting national and global challenges, our hope rests on the men and women who work together across local, national and even international channels to offer support. Countless personal stories attest to simple acts of kindness, where police officers, medical teams, firefighters and first-aid agencies provide life-saving help.

9/11, 911, National September 11 Memorial Museum, 911 Museum, New York City Reflecting Pools, global disasters, Canada, Spain, Iceland, natural disasters, Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, WomanScape, One World Trade Center, Marsh & McLennan, North Tower, South Tower, Afganisgtan, Iraq, War on Terror, Virgil, The Aeneid. Minoru Yamasaki, Come From Away, Broadway Tony Awards, Gander, Newfoundland, Peter Walker, numerologist, numerology, eternity, faith, service to humanity, spiritual enlightenment, selflessness, sacrifice, new beginnings, creation, striving forward, progress, the energies of positivity, oneness, racism, discrimination, Freedom Tower N145Who can forget the stories of first responders from other countries that drove or flew to New York to help after 9/11? One such story was turned into a musical that picked up 7 Tony Award nominations. It showcases a universal message about what happens when a broader collective of people demonstrate what humanity means.

This was the storyline in the smash Broadway hit, “Come From Away.” The play recounts the experiences of 7,000 people stranded in Gander, Newfoundland after 38 plane were grounded immediately following 9/11. People from Gander shared their hearts and their homes, giving new meaning to the definition of first responders.

The North and South Reflecting Pools at the museum build on this story of hope. Yes, they are impressive sized pools each measuring a full acre in size. But they do more than reflect the footprints of the Twin Towers. They were built to accentuate the absence of what was (the former towers that are gone and the lives lost), but they also represent the healing powers of water and nature.

9/11, 911, National September 11 Memorial Museum, 911 Museum, New York City Reflecting Pools, global disasters, Canada, Spain, Iceland, natural disasters, Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, WomanScape, One World Trade Center, Marsh & McLennan, North Tower, South Tower, Afganisgtan, Iraq, War on Terror, Virgil, The Aeneid. Minoru Yamasaki, Come From Away, Broadway Tony Awards, Gander, Newfoundland, Peter Walker, numerologist, numerology, eternity, faith, service to humanity, spiritual enlightenment, selflessness, sacrifice, new beginnings, creation, striving forward, progress, the energies of positivity, oneness, racism, discrimination, Freedom Tower N145When you stand next to the pools, the frenetic traffic sounds and noises of New York disappear. Parklands surrounding the contemplative waterfalls inside each of the pools offer visitors the peace found in nature. But what I also see in the vision of landscape architect Peter Walker goes further than a calm place of sanctuary and remembrance. When you look into the pools of water that wash over the names of 2,983 victims, the sky is reflected in them. It’s captured best in the second photo below.

In the face of adversity, humanity looks to the sky for forgiveness, compassion and strength. Although it may seem like a stretch, numerologists and people from diverse cultures believe numbers are imbued with significant meaning.

For example, in the Hindu faith the number 9 is divine because it is the highest single digit. As well, numerologists believe 9 traditionally represents earthly lessons of forgiveness and compassion.  I discovered a laundry list of interpretative associations with the number 9 and can’t help but think of how appropriately they fit into the vision provided by the reflecting pools. Number 9 is associated with eternity, faith, service to humanity, spiritual enlightenment, selflessness and sacrifice.

The math gets even more interesting when you look at the number 1. How fascinating to think about 9-1-1 responders and the reflecting pool when you consider that 1 represents new beginnings, creation, striving forward, progress, and the energies of positivity! In Western traditions, number 1 is also associated with God and the oneness of God and man. In this light, the oneness of humanity eliminates racism and discrimination.

9/11, 911, National September 11 Memorial Museum, 911 Museum, New York City Reflecting Pools, global disasters, Canada, Spain, Iceland, natural disasters, Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, WomanScape, One World Trade Center, Marsh & McLennan, North Tower, South Tower, Afganisgtan, Iraq, War on Terror, Virgil, The Aeneid. Minoru Yamasaki, Come From Away, Broadway Tony Awards, Gander, Newfoundland, Peter Walker, numerologist, numerology, eternity, faith, service to humanity, spiritual enlightenment, selflessness, sacrifice, new beginnings, creation, striving forward, progress, the energies of positivity, oneness, racism, discrimination, Freedom Tower N145

9/11, 911, National September 11 Memorial Museum, 911 Museum, New York City Reflecting Pools, global disasters, Canada, Spain, Iceland, natural disasters, Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, WomanScape, One World Trade Center, Marsh & McLennan, North Tower, South Tower, Afganisgtan, Iraq, War on Terror, Virgil, The Aeneid. Minoru Yamasaki, Come From Away, Broadway Tony Awards, Gander, Newfoundland, Peter Walker, numerologist, numerology, eternity, faith, service to humanity, spiritual enlightenment, selflessness, sacrifice, new beginnings, creation, striving forward, progress, the energies of positivity, oneness, racism, discrimination, Freedom Tower N145As we honor the memories of lives lived and the souls sacrificed for our freedom and good, let’s not forget those who stand for our protection. New York’s Freedom Tower stands watch over New York City, a gleaming beacon of strength and beauty. To my brother who is a policeman, to the brother that died a paramedic, and  to the daughter I love as an emergency room nurse, I stand in the shadow of your powerful conviction and never-ending hope.

Camille Maurine, Lorin Roche, Meditation Secrets for Women, Inscape, U.S. National Sleep Foundation, Khajak Keledjian, depression, diabetes, heart disease, Sleep deprivation, ghrelin hormone, Arianna Huffington, Andrew Shanahan, leptin hormone, cortisol, Man v Fat, Best Health magazine, meditation, insomnia, sleep deprivation, motherhood, men, women, health

My brain is officially wired for insomnia. The more I think about getting a better sleep, the more incapacitated I feel. As a kid, I found it difficult to sleep.

But motherhood made sleep deprivation my best friend. According to the U.S. National Sleep Foundation, about a million different medical or lifestyle habits could be responsible for my war with sleep. Here’s what I know: men seem to have an easier time with sleep than most women. And, my trip to Inscape – a sleep and meditation space in New York City – gives me hope.

Science suggests that men are better sleepers than women. Unlike men, women have a harder time turning their brains off at the end of the day. According to Best Health magazine, this is further exacerbated by fluctuations in women’s reproductive cycles. Menstruation, pregnancy hormones, and peri-menopausal changes in estrogen and progesterone all cause variations that disturb sleep. It’s not right for mother nature to play favorites especially if, as the evidence suggests, women need more sleep than men.

Camille Maurine, Lorin Roche, Meditation Secrets for Women, Inscape, U.S. National Sleep Foundation, Khajak Keledjian, depression, diabetes, heart disease, Sleep deprivation, ghrelin hormone, Arianna Huffington, Andrew Shanahan, leptin hormone, cortisol, Man v Fat, Best Health magazine, meditation, insomnia, sleep deprivation, motherhood, men, women, health

Another explanation suggests women have more trouble falling or staying asleep because they worry more than men. This definitely feels like a sexist statement, that women are somehow less resilient or weaker than men. But Andrew Shanahan, editor of Man v Fat, says women actually “suck at sleeping” because they use their brains and multitask more than men during the day. Okay, this swings the sexist pendulum the other way. I don’t feel too bad anymore. By comparison, it makes us look smarter now, doesn’t it?

I like the science that sides with the conditioning theory.

It suggests that hormonal fluctuations and pregnancy set women up for interrupted sleep. We are therefore more inclined to hear noises that keep us awake at night. If women do, in fact, need more sleep than men, according to the National Sleep Federation, then sleep is a feminist issue. Arianna Huffington wasn’t kidding when she said that women can be more successful, quite literally, if they “sleep [their] way to the top.”

I took Arianna’s advice to heart after reading more about the effects of sleep deprivation. The alarming highlights of sleep deprivation include:

  • Higher cortisol levels that cause weight gain, reduce muscle mass, and increase hunger response in the brain;
  • When the hormone ghrelin tells us we need to eat more because we are sleeping less, we produce more ghrelin;
  • Sleep deprivation worsens because leptin, another hormone that tells us we’ve eaten enough, stops responding when we sleep less; and,
  • Depression, diabetes, and heart disease all spike up when we sleep less.

Camille Maurine, Lorin Roche, Meditation Secrets for Women, Inscape, U.S. National Sleep Foundation, Khajak Keledjian, depression, diabetes, heart disease, Sleep deprivation, ghrelin hormone, Arianna Huffington, Andrew Shanahan, leptin hormone, cortisol, Man v Fat, Best Health magazine, meditation, insomnia, sleep deprivation, motherhood, men, women, healthBut even still, when I gather the list of sleep hygiene rules, I can’t seem to follow them consistently. I exercise in the morning, I turn off my phone at night, and I even clean up my annoying writing desk filled with overflowing papers and books. It’s a pet peeve of my husband and a no-no if you want to relax the mind. I even add bedtime tea with natural chamomile and hibiscus flowers, but the glass of wine I shouldn’t have before bed probably counters this effect.

I need to take this problem seriously if I don’t want to develop long term sleep problems.

However, I keep putting it off because that’s what we women do. There aren’t enough hours in the day for all the things that need my attention. Even when I hear the lullaby chime on my cell phone reminding me it’s fifteen minutes before midnight, I can’t go to sleep. I get into bed but I can’t relax.

Camille Maurine, Lorin Roche, Meditation Secrets for Women, Inscape, U.S. National Sleep Foundation, Khajak Keledjian, depression, diabetes, heart disease, Sleep deprivation, ghrelin hormone, Arianna Huffington, Andrew Shanahan, leptin hormone, cortisol, Man v Fat, Best Health magazine, meditation, insomnia, sleep deprivation, motherhood, men, women, health

This is the perfect introduction to Inscape and meditation re-imagined. I am certain words like breathing, mindfulness, relaxation, and meditation are the missing keys to sleep-nirvana. I sign up for a class online and head into New York City to the Inscape studios. I force my husband to join me, with the promise we’ll go for dinner and drinks afterwards. But instead, we enjoy a Mexican lunch and a round of beer, thinking this might be a better prelude to sleep.

As we enter the posh high-tech looking entrance to Inscape, the air is calm and a fruity-floral scent wafts past our nostrils. We are separated from the frenetic sounds of traffic as the door closes behind us. White walls, comfy looking bean-bag chairs, and soft smiles invite us in. Gentle voices ask how we are doing. As we check in, a petite instructor wearing all black guides us to a small locker area. Photo below is the storefront in the the Flatiron section of New York City.

Camille Maurine, Lorin Roche, Meditation Secrets for Women, Inscape, U.S. National Sleep Foundation, Khajak Keledjian, depression, diabetes, heart disease, Sleep deprivation, ghrelin hormone, Arianna Huffington, Andrew Shanahan, leptin hormone, cortisol, Man v Fat, Best Health magazine, meditation, insomnia, sleep deprivation, motherhood, men, women, healthWe pass the two meditation rooms – the Alcove (pictured below) and the Dome (photo above). We’ll do a 33-minute relaxation session for $22 each in the Dome. The prices are cheaper if you buy a monthly pass or bundled package of sessions. The fuss is minimal, if whether you purchase online or use the Inscape APP.  I already feel lulled into a serene, whispering state as I wait for the class to begin. But, of course, I start to worry about the effects of our Mexican lunch. Not a wise move, but maybe the instructor won’t stay with us once the audio voice comes over the speaker. I assume we’ll close our eyes too.

Camille Maurine, Lorin Roche, Meditation Secrets for Women, Inscape, U.S. National Sleep Foundation, Khajak Keledjian, depression, diabetes, heart disease, Sleep deprivation, ghrelin hormone, Arianna Huffington, Andrew Shanahan, leptin hormone, cortisol, Man v Fat, Best Health magazine, meditation, insomnia, sleep deprivation, motherhood, men, women, health
Camille Maurine, Lorin Roche, Meditation Secrets for Women, Inscape, U.S. National Sleep Foundation, Khajak Keledjian, depression, diabetes, heart disease, Sleep deprivation, ghrelin hormone, Arianna Huffington, Andrew Shanahan, leptin hormone, cortisol, Man v Fat, Best Health magazine, meditation, insomnia, sleep deprivation, motherhood, men, women, health

As we take our positions on the floor, the marvelous red and purple colors of the room’s ceiling and walls make it feel like we are leaving planet earth. We follow the instructor who takes her place in the center seat of the Dome. Adjusting the foam roller supports and back rests, we watch the room fill up quickly. The door closes. And the class, of equal parts men and women, listen to the instructor. She will help guide us through an audio series of relaxation techniques. We focus on breathing, and I struggle to stay awake.

The class is finished as quickly as it started. We are encouraged to hang out in the lobby lounge before heading back into the real world. I really do feel inspired and empowered. Shockingly, even my husband agrees he’d like to return. The purpose at Inscape is to connect with yourself so you can connect with everything around you. The Inscape founder and CEO is Khajak Keledjian. His studio space and APP offer a balance between what he calls “modern wellness and mindful luxury.”

Camille Maurine, Lorin Roche, Meditation Secrets for Women, Inscape, U.S. National Sleep Foundation, Khajak Keledjian, depression, diabetes, heart disease, Sleep deprivation, ghrelin hormone, Arianna Huffington, Andrew Shanahan, leptin hormone, cortisol, Man v Fat, Best Health magazine, meditation, insomnia, sleep deprivation, motherhood, men, women, healthSince my visit, I’ve started to incorporate some of the breathing challenges into my daily routine. I’m sleeping a little better but know learning to balance my sleep and awake cycles won’t happen overnight (pun intended). I’m already late for bed, but I’ve added some ammunition to my cadre of sleep tools. In addition to the Inscape App, I now have a copy of Camille Maurine and Lorin Roche’s Meditation Secrets for Women by my bedside. I’m hoping to follow their mantra “Discovering your passion, pleasure and inner peace.” If that goes well, I hope to enjoy a lot more sleep.

 

Lydia Delgado, artists, Ghana, West Africa, Art of Living Water Projects, India, Rom Levy, Sean Yoro, Hula, power of water, women and water, Hurricane Harvey, Teas, Labor Day, U.S., 1937 Fundy Bay tragedy, Bay of Fundy, Sea Caves, hydro-electricity, Arica Hilton, Multiverse, the artist who lights up the sky, Hilton Asmus, Artsy.net, Chicago

A young mother bathes her children in it every night. Lydia Delgado, my favorite watercolor artist, uses it to create layers of colorful florals with masterful brushstrokes.

When it falls onto the tongue of a young boy’s open mouth, he smiles joyfully as it melts. But when untamed, it frightens a mother who watches it rise with the fear she feels for her family’s safety. This is the power of water. In its many forms, it sustains us and threatens us, but we are lost without it. Artists from around the world remind us of water’s life-giving qualities and the divine role of women in relation to it.

Lydia Delgado, artists, Ghana, West Africa, Art of Living Water Projects, India, Rom Levy, Sean Yoro, Hula, power of water, women and water, Hurricane Harvey, Teas, Labor Day, U.S., 1937 Fundy Bay tragedy, Bay of Fundy, Sea Caves, hydro-electricity, Arica Hilton, Multiverse, the artist who lights up the sky, Hilton Asmus, Artsy.net, ChicagoWater has always been a symbol of life and strength. In Ghanaian culture, women are purveyors of water. They travel miles to bring water to their homes, carrying heavy jars of it on their heads. On the west coast of Africa in northern Ghana, most homes do not have running water. Women go to boreholes (like these women walking to wells) or lakes so they have enough water to drink and use for household chores like cooking and bathing.

But during the dry season, water from most lakes has disappeared and any that does exist is contaminated. Because it is so desperately needed, women spend a large part of their day, time and energy retrieving it.

Lately, shortages are also an issue for India, a country experiencing its worst water crisis in 40 years. The riverbeds in the south have run dry for many of reasons, including over-exploited groundwater to unplanned urbanization. But an organization called the Art of Living Water Projects is working to help empower women by providing better knowledge and ways to help them.

Community training sessions and other related program initiatives in India teach women how to partner with governments to build canals and rejuvenate riverbeds. The focus is on strengthening youth and women leadership in India so women can take charge of their circumstances and prevent younger girls from missing school to fetch water.  For more information or to consider donating, please visit their website.

Lydia Delgado, artists, Ghana, West Africa, Art of Living Water Projects, India, Rom Levy, Sean Yoro, Hula, power of water, women and water, Hurricane Harvey, Teas, Labor Day, U.S., 1937 Fundy Bay tragedy, Bay of Fundy, Sea Caves, hydro-electricity, Arica Hilton, Multiverse, the artist who lights up the sky, Hilton Asmus, Artsy.net, Chicago

Helping women rise above threatening waters is literally the work of one artist, Sean Yoro aka Hula. I saw his work a few years ago in StreetArtNews.net. This online publication by Rom Levy promotes underground artists. His series, Women Rise Up From the Water, was created to draw attention to social problems like ugly abandoned buildings in Hawaii and the melting polar caps (see the cover photo).  

Sean is a NYC-based artist who grabbed his surfboard and acrylic paints to produce stunning paintings of women. He understands the powerful significance of using women as the central theme in his graphics. They are the givers of life, as mothers and providers of family. So when Sean’s women sink into the melted ice caps or disappear from the old building lots, he shows the resulting imbalance. Scientists suggest the violent cycle of earth’s storms will likely increase.

Lydia Delgado, artists, Ghana, West Africa, Art of Living Water Projects, India, Rom Levy, Sean Yoro, Hula, power of water, women and water, Hurricane Harvey, Teas, Labor Day, U.S., 1937 Fundy Bay tragedy, Bay of Fundy, Sea Caves, hydro-electricity, Arica Hilton, Multiverse, the artist who lights up the sky, Hilton Asmus, Artsy.net, Chicago

Sean’s female-centered posters have a sense of urgency about rising sea levels, climate change and beautification. But using images of women in art is nothing new. Mother Earth Laid Bare, a 1936 painting by Alexander Hogue, uses barren plots of land in the shape of a woman to show the suffering of Mother Nature. The photo – on display in the Art Institute of Chicago a few years back – sits next to other works by realist painters like Edward Hopper, and shows how defenseless we are against drought, winds and eroding soil.

The severity of mother nature’s power is certainly underscored by the recent events of Hurricane Harvey in the United States. Hurricanes wreak havoc as millions of people in Houston and other parts of Texas recently experienced. Harvey has forced tens of thousands of people into emergency shelters, hoping they’ll be able to salvage some of their belongings as emergency personnel and government workers prepare for years of cleanup and economic recovery.

Destructive storms like Harvey will always loom over us, like the Bhola cyclone that struck East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh) and India’s West Bengal region on November 12th, 1970.   More than half a million people lost their lives in what was one of the deadliest natural disasters of all time. People are helpless in the face of powerful storm or even tides of water like those in the Bay of Fundy.

The tides are the highest in the world, reaching up to a five story building, and the reversing tide section of Fundy Bay (see the photo below) claimed the lives of 19 people in a mass 1837 tragedy when 25 members of several families went berry picking. I saw the powerful evidence of eroding soil and rock along the cliffs of the bay, where tourists can walk among sea caves during low tide, before the high waters come in and flood the entire area. It is a solemn reminder of water’s power.

Lydia Delgado, artists, Ghana, West Africa, Art of Living Water Projects, India, Rom Levy, Sean Yoro, Hula, power of water, women and water, Hurricane Harvey, Teas, Labor Day, U.S., 1937 Fundy Bay tragedy, Bay of Fundy, Sea Caves, hydro-electricity, Arica Hilton, Multiverse, the artist who lights up the sky, Hilton Asmus, Artsy.net, Chicago

Over the years, we have learned to harness the power of water for a huge variety of needs from hydro-electricity to stately fountains and water parks.Whether water is used by Indians who bathe in the Ganges or Arabs in the Middle East who depend on the desalination of water for its vital life properties, water is to be cherished and revered. The earth is roughly two-thirds water but “by 2025, 1.8 billion people will experience absolute water scarcity, and 2/3 of the world will be living under water-stressed conditions.”

Lydia Delgado, artists, Ghana, West Africa, Art of Living Water Projects, India, Rom Levy, Sean Yoro, Hula, power of water, women and water, Hurricane Harvey, Teas, Labor Day, U.S., 1937 Fundy Bay tragedy, Bay of Fundy, Sea Caves, hydro-electricity, Arica Hilton, Multiverse, the artist who lights up the sky, Hilton Asmus, Artsy.net, Chicago

As we celebrate Labor Day in North America over the September holiday weekend, I am reminded of the many women and men who have labored to service our communities, and emergency personnel who have dedicated their lives to helping those threatened by water.

This labor of love is also reflected in the artists of our time, who inspire us to higher standards and loftier goals for ourselves and each other. Artists like Arica Hilton remind us that nature is a gift and water is a powerful friend. In her one of her latest series, Multiverse, Arica prompts us to consider water conservation within the larger context of sustainable living. Her use of recycled and crushed plastic water bottles within the rich canvases of color, texture and design, help us to see and embrace water’s ubiquitous and free-flowing form.

Lydia Delgado, artists, Ghana, West Africa, Art of Living Water Projects, India, Rom Levy, Sean Yoro, Hula, power of water, women and water, Hurricane Harvey, Teas, Labor Day, U.S., 1937 Fundy Bay tragedy, Bay of Fundy, Sea Caves, hydro-electricity, Arica Hilton, Multiverse, the artist who lights up the sky, Hilton Asmus, Artsy.net, Chicago
Lydia Delgado, artists, Ghana, West Africa, Art of Living Water Projects, India, Rom Levy, Sean Yoro, Hula, power of water, women and water, Hurricane Harvey, Teas, Labor Day, U.S., 1937 Fundy Bay tragedy, Bay of Fundy, Sea Caves, hydro-electricity, Arica Hilton, Multiverse, the artist who lights up the sky, Hilton Asmus, Artsy.net, Chicago

I encourage readers to learn more about Arica by visiting WomanScape’s The Artist Who Lights Up the Sky, or to enjoy her work online at Hilton Asmus or at Artsy.net. Arica is a visionary living and working in the heart of Chicago’s art district and part of her philosophy for life, written below, inspires us to be our best selves.

I believe in free will, that we can choose our path the way we want to design it.

I believe in the power of vision, perhaps that’s why I am an artist.

Milky Way. Silhouette of a standing woman practicing yoga on the mountain near the pond with sky reflection in water. Landscape with meditating girl on the hill. Night starry sky and milky way

It’s no secret that tens of thousands of books have been written about happiness.

happiness, enlightenment, Maura Soshin O'Halloran, Buddha, Marian Broderick, Wild Irish Women: Extraordinary Lives From History, Connollys Book Store, Dublin, Ireland, Zen, Japan, Toyko, Trinity college, County Wicklow, Toshoji Temple, meditation, chanting, Oisin, Soshin, Gaelic, mu, monks, Bangkok, Thailand, Of Pure Heart and Enlightened Mind, saint, Lion's roar, Hangover 2, Chao Phraya River, tuk-tuk, rickshaw, purpose driven lifeThe number of self-help gurus and Oprah-style lessons on meditation and paths to enlightenment are exhaustive. Like most people, I live merrily until there is some unrest or tragedy: a marriage ends, someone dies, a cancer diagnosis, or a life-altering events reminds us of our mortality.

Enter the history of the world and Marian Broderick’s Wild Irish Women: Extraordinary Lives From History. The wealth of lessons from remarkable lives lived is an attractive proposition. I stumbled upon this gem of a book in Dublin’s oldest and arguably most radical bookstore near Trinity Square, Connolly’s .

The proposition of learning from wild women who broke the rules in unapologetic and pioneering ways is promising. Like Broderick, I “limp with an Irish background” with my muddied ancestral roots. But within the covers of this seventy-plus list of short biographies, I am moved by the story of Maura “Soshin” O’Halloran. She was a young woman who moved to Japan and achieved a Zen state of enlightenment at the ripe old age of only twenty-six.

happiness, enlightenment, Maura Soshin O'Halloran, Buddha, Marian Broderick, Wild Irish Women: Extraordinary Lives From History, Connollys Book Store, Dublin, Ireland, Zen, Japan, Toyko, Trinity college, County Wicklow, Toshoji Temple, meditation, chanting, Oisin, Soshin, Gaelic, mu, monks, Bangkok, Thailand, Of Pure Heart and Enlightened Mind, saint, Lion's roar, Hangover 2, Chao Phraya River, tuk-tuk, rickshaw, purpose driven lifeBut serious questions came to mind: how does an Irish Catholic move to Japan and master enlightenment in one year and, better yet, why? Broderick takes us through a brief history of Maura’s roots: born in Boston to the O’Hallorans, moved with the family to Dublin where Maura is educated in Loretto convent schools, academic scholarship to Trinity College and graduates college with a degree in mathematical statistics and sociology. (The photo above is taken in a special meeting of two rivers, north of Dublin in County Wicklow. St. Patrick said that a dream had brought him to this sacred place.)

happiness, enlightenment, Maura Soshin O'Halloran, Buddha, Marian Broderick, Wild Irish Women: Extraordinary Lives From History, Connollys Book Store, Dublin, Ireland, Zen, Japan, Toyko, Trinity college, County Wicklow, Toshoji Temple, meditation, chanting, Oisin, Soshin, Gaelic, mu, monks, Bangkok, Thailand, Of Pure Heart and Enlightened Mind, saint, Lion's roar, Hangover 2, Chao Phraya River, tuk-tuk, rickshaw, purpose driven lifeThis seems an unlikely path to Buddha, but Maura’s desire to help others and a love of travel take her to volunteer posts in parts of the United States, Canada and Peru after graduation. Naturally a spiritual person, Maura decides to travel to the Toshoji Temple in Tokyo. There she asks to train as a monk and becomes the only woman and the only foreigner to be accepted.

The training is extreme and involves daily observances like meditation, chanting, menial work and begging with minimal sleep and food. Broderick notes that Maura is given the name Soshin, meaning enlightened, warm heart; which makes Maura very happy since Soshin rhymes with Oisin, the Gaelic word meaning “little dear” and the namesake of an Irish poet and warrior legend.

happiness, enlightenment, Maura Soshin O'Halloran, Buddha, Marian Broderick, Wild Irish Women: Extraordinary Lives From History, Connollys Book Store, Dublin, Ireland, Zen, Japan, Toyko, Trinity college, County Wicklow, Toshoji Temple, meditation, chanting, Oisin, Soshin, Gaelic, mu, monks, Bangkok, Thailand, Of Pure Heart and Enlightened Mind, saint, Lion's roar, Hangover 2, Chao Phraya River, tuk-tuk, rickshaw, purpose driven lifeMaura’s deep love for her fellow Japanese monks and her disciplined study impress the Dogen Zen Master so much that she graduates in only a year as a Tenzo monk and named second in command. While this achievement might be a prescription for finding Zen, it goes completely awry when Maura is suddenly killed in a bus accident. At 27 years of age, she intended to do a short tour of Southeast Asia but died in Bangkok, Thailand.

Maura’s journals came to be called Of Pure Heart and Enlightened Mind , with many people believing she had become a sort of Zen saint. Her words provide a fascinating insight into her path towards enlightenment, and the joy she hoped to bring to Ireland by founding a temple and teaching Zen.

happiness, enlightenment, Maura Soshin O'Halloran, Buddha, Marian Broderick, Wild Irish Women: Extraordinary Lives From History, Connollys Book Store, Dublin, Ireland, Zen, Japan, Toyko, Trinity college, County Wicklow, Toshoji Temple, meditation, chanting, Oisin, Soshin, Gaelic, mu, monks, Bangkok, Thailand, Of Pure Heart and Enlightened Mind, saint, Lion's roar, Hangover 2, Chao Phraya River, tuk-tuk, rickshaw, purpose driven lifeIn 1994, Lion’s Roar – a Buddhist magazine – shared some of Maura’s reflections about life behind temple walls. What surprised me was her candid thoughts about gender (which were never an issue) and the unconditional acceptance she felt among her fellow monks. But when I think about her quest to attain “mu” (to embody a completely blank mind and to erase all worldly concerns), I can’t imagine anyone ever  achieving this kind of detachment from our beautiful world.

Having visited Bangkok several years ago, I remember sensing something greater than myself. Entering several Buddhist temples and traveling into the countryside, I saw dozens of golden statues. Each was unique and massive in scale – whether it was a lying Buddha, reclining Buddha, or sitting Buddha. To my surprise, each seemed to elicit a strange spiritual calm even though my mind wrestled with the Catholic doctrines also initially shared by Maura.

happiness, enlightenment, Maura Soshin O'Halloran, Buddha, Marian Broderick, Wild Irish Women: Extraordinary Lives From History, Connollys Book Store, Dublin, Ireland, Zen, Japan, Toyko, Trinity college, County Wicklow, Toshoji Temple, meditation, chanting, Oisin, Soshin, Gaelic, mu, monks, Bangkok, Thailand, Of Pure Heart and Enlightened Mind, saint, Lion's roar, Hangover 2, Chao Phraya River, tuk-tuk, rickshaw, purpose driven lifeTraveling through the streets and touring along the Chao Phraya River, I considered two worlds: the modern conveniences of cars and a luxurious shopping mall commingled with the solemn but industrious movement of brightly clad monks and their young charges. I wondered what it must be like to live behind tall iron gates and if I could ever relinquish all worldly possessions.

Bangkok is filled with incredible architecture and royal lifestyles, like my stay at the Lebua Tower. The hotel service was exceptional and super affordable, with rooms costing the same as those of two or three star hotel in America. The vanishing edge pool and Lebua sky-bar, perched some 820 feet above the city, boosts one of the best views in the world.

No wonder one of the scenes from the movie Hangover-part 2 was filmed there. It could easily be mistaken for a Las Vegas hotel. The photo taken from the balcony of my room shows how developed Bangkok is despite the massive poverty and simple vehicles used to get around; tuk-tuk mini-buses and rickshaw bikes were a popular sight.

happiness, enlightenment, Maura Soshin O'Halloran, Buddha, Marian Broderick, Wild Irish Women: Extraordinary Lives From History, Connollys Book Store, Dublin, Ireland, Zen, Japan, Toyko, Trinity college, County Wicklow, Toshoji Temple, meditation, chanting, Oisin, Soshin, Gaelic, mu, monks, Bangkok, Thailand, Of Pure Heart and Enlightened Mind, saint, Lion's roar, Hangover 2, Chao Phraya River, tuk-tuk, rickshaw, purpose driven life

happiness, enlightenment, Maura Soshin O'Halloran, Buddha, Marian Broderick, Wild Irish Women: Extraordinary Lives From History, Connollys Book Store, Dublin, Ireland, Zen, Japan, Toyko, Trinity college, County Wicklow, Toshoji Temple, meditation, chanting, Oisin, Soshin, Gaelic, mu, monks, Bangkok, Thailand, Of Pure Heart and Enlightened Mind, saint, Lion's roar, Hangover 2, Chao Phraya River, tuk-tuk, rickshaw, purpose driven life
happiness, enlightenment, Maura Soshin O'Halloran, Buddha, Marian Broderick, Wild Irish Women: Extraordinary Lives From History, Connollys Book Store, Dublin, Ireland, Zen, Japan, Toyko, Trinity college, County Wicklow, Toshoji Temple, meditation, chanting, Oisin, Soshin, Gaelic, mu, monks, Bangkok, Thailand, Of Pure Heart and Enlightened Mind, saint, Lion's roar, Hangover 2, Chao Phraya River, tuk-tuk, rickshaw, purpose driven life

Only now, looking back at this experience and the roads that I have traveled throughout my life, do I realize that enlightenment is not found in books, temples or churches. While these can provide valuable knowledge and guidance for living a contemplative life, they are not enough.

The inter-religious dialogue that Maura Soshin O’Halloran pursued was personal and purpose-driven but incomplete. There is no one way to happiness and enlightenment except through the convergent paths we share with one another and the awareness that comes from the everlasting pursuit of being more conscious.

happiness, enlightenment, Maura Soshin O'Halloran, Buddha, Marian Broderick, Wild Irish Women: Extraordinary Lives From History, Connollys Book Store, Dublin, Ireland, Zen, Japan, Toyko, Trinity college, County Wicklow, Toshoji Temple, meditation, chanting, Oisin, Soshin, Gaelic, mu, monks, Bangkok, Thailand, Of Pure Heart and Enlightened Mind, saint, Lion's roar, Hangover 2, Chao Phraya River, tuk-tuk, rickshaw, purpose driven lifeIt’s simple to say we need to understand our interconnections. This is particularly challenging if we see it as a burden. What I do know is that the more open I am to the world and the more I reflect without judgment on those who come into my life, the more happiness and understanding seem to follow.

While researching this article, I found a startling journal entry by Maura. The source looks like a Buddhist blog – if such a thing can exist – and the entry is written by someone named Terebess . Maura is preparing to leave the temple

and tour Southeast Asia. She knows her life has been purposeful and satisfied, and eerily portends her death. The challenge for each of us is to ask ourselves how satisfied we are with life as we know it.

“I’m twenty-six and I feel as If I’ve lived my life. Strange sensation, almost as if I’m close to death. Any desires, ambitions, hopes I may have had have either been fulfilled or spontaneously dissipated. I’m totally content. Of course I want to get deeper, see clearer, but even if I could only have this paltry, shallow awakening, I’d be quite satisfied…. So in a sense I feel I’ve died. For myself there is nothing else to strive after, nothing more to make my life worthwhile or to justify it. At twenty-six, a living corpse and such a life! … If I have another fifty or sixty years (who knows?) of time, I want to live it for other people. What else is there to do with it? … So I must go deeper and deeper and work hard, no longer for me, but for everyone I can help.”

happiness, enlightenment, Maura Soshin O'Halloran, Buddha, Marian Broderick, Wild Irish Women: Extraordinary Lives From History, Connollys Book Store, Dublin, Ireland, Zen, Japan, Toyko, Trinity college, County Wicklow, Toshoji Temple, meditation, chanting, Oisin, Soshin, Gaelic, mu, monks, Bangkok, Thailand, Of Pure Heart and Enlightened Mind, saint, Lion's roar, Hangover 2, Chao Phraya River, tuk-tuk, rickshaw, purpose driven life

Solar eclipse, total eclipse of the heart, Bonnie Tyler, Great American Eclipse, 3 billion eclipses, doomsday prophecy, White House tension, socio-economic divides, fear, the eyes, Jay DeFeo, Whitney Museum, New York City, Bran Stark, Game of Thrones, Philip Lamantia, The Rose, duality of existence, evil eye, third eye blind, Egyptians, Ancient Greeks, Horus, Re, Sun God, Quoran, superstitious, Yogis, chakra, seat of the soul, René Descartes, atman, psyche, eyes to the soul, Ellsworth Kelly, Red, White and Blue, Democrats and Republicans, Joe Jonus

What do you see when you look up to the stars? Make sure it’s not the sun on August 21, 2017, unless you’re wearing protective eye wear. This solar eclipse, dubbed the Great American Eclipse, will travel from coast to coast across the U.S., darkening the sky and revealing the stars as it startles animals and nature.

Even though people in North America and parts of South America, Africa and Europe will see at least a partial solar eclipse, this eclipse feels different.

This is strange because solar eclipses are nothing new. There are more than 3 billion eclipses on record, with the last total eclipse in America occurring in 1918. So maybe it’s a confluence of stresses and anxiety around the globe that makes this eclipse feel like a metaphorical doomsday prophecy?

Could it be America’s daily newsreel of White House tensions and the growing chasm of racial and socio-economic divisions are driving us crazy?

European countries are struggling with issues like immigration and millions of displaced citizens, not to mention economic uncertainties from the growing dissolution of the European Union. As if that’s not enough, we are constantly bombarded by escalating tensions in North Korea, border control disputes in India and China, and war and food scarcity in the Middle East and Africa seems to be spiraling out of control.

No wonder we are afraid. The world is mad. The eclipse will pass but the fear over the state of the world lingers. Fear is powerful enough to eclipse hope, purpose and meaning, unless we have the courage and wisdom to reframe our understanding. When we turn our eyes and our attention to the sky, we look to higher values and existential questions about why we are here. This is where the image of the eye gets really interesting.  

Solar eclipse, total eclipse of the heart, Bonnie Tyler, Great American Eclipse, 3 billion eclipses, doomsday prophecy, White House tension, socio-economic divides, fear, the eyes, Jay DeFeo, Whitney Museum, New York City, Bran Stark, Game of Thrones, Philip Lamantia, The Rose, duality of existence, evil eye, third eye blind, Egyptians, Ancient Greeks, Horus, Re, Sun God, Quoran, superstitious, Yogis, chakra, seat of the soul, René Descartes, atman, psyche, eyes to the soul, Ellsworth Kelly, Red, White and Blue, Democrats and Republicans, Joe JonusA 1958 sketch called The Eyes by Jay DeFeo hangs in the Whitney Museum in New York City.  The large drawing was inspired by the artist’s own physical eyes, and she uses her canvas to question what it means to see. It’s appropriate to zoom in on DeFeo’s work given her study of art as its relationship to the cosmos. A large group of people stood around DeFeo’s work, studying the lines on the canvas and differences in each eye. The right eye appears hollow and white like a full moon, reminding me of television characters like Bran Stark, from HBO’s Game of Thrones. Bran has the gift of prophecy despite his crippled body.

DeFeo’s eye on the left side is noticeably different, with cracks in the pupil and a complex series of geometric lines. The eye seems to have more movement and unrest, and I imagined the wrinkles around this eye to be string-like tentacles that looked like a series of hydro poles. The effect is mesmerizing and you are drawn in, hoping to discover hidden pictures and patterns.

The wall plaque next to the sketch mentions an inscription on the back of DeFeo’s work. It’s written by her but taken from a poem by Philip Lamantia that says, “Tell him I have eyes only for Heaven, as I look to you Queen Mirror of the Heavenly Court.”  This surprised me even though I could feel the spiritual longing in the layered shades of black. Critics suggest that DeFeo used her art to examine a growing interest in themes surrounding symbolic versus physical vision. The dichotomy of heaven and earth and a thirst for God’s mercy are certainly obvious in DeFeo’s work when you consider the inscription.

Solar eclipse, total eclipse of the heart, Bonnie Tyler, Great American Eclipse, 3 billion eclipses, doomsday prophecy, White House tension, socio-economic divides, fear, the eyes, Jay DeFeo, Whitney Museum, New York City, Bran Stark, Game of Thrones, Philip Lamantia, The Rose, duality of existence, evil eye, third eye blind, Egyptians, Ancient Greeks, Horus, Re, Sun God, Quoran, superstitious, Yogis, chakra, seat of the soul, René Descartes, atman, psyche, eyes to the soul, Ellsworth Kelly, Red, White and Blue, Democrats and Republicans, Joe JonusDeFeo’s work is visually beautiful. It carries me back to the paradox of our world and the struggle between the intuitive and rational processes we all possess. DeFeo took eight years to complete this later work (pictured to the left), The Rose, which weighs a whopping 1,850 pounds. Here, DeFeo is both seer and realist, looking for comfort in the future while trying to understand the present. Her message is her art, and it is both beautiful and comforting. It feels divinely inspired but grounded in earthly materials as it leaps off the canvas and asserts her transcendental power.

I remember seeing this three-dimensional canvas at the Whitney in 2015, thinking it looked like an exploding flower rising from the ground. Critics describe it as the place “where linearity and circularity, precision and coarseness, stasis and movement, and other such dualities coexist in harmony and with force.”

Solar eclipse, total eclipse of the heart, Bonnie Tyler, Great American Eclipse, 3 billion eclipses, doomsday prophecy, White House tension, socio-economic divides, fear, the eyes, Jay DeFeo, Whitney Museum, New York City, Bran Stark, Game of Thrones, Philip Lamantia, The Rose, duality of existence, evil eye, third eye blind, Egyptians, Ancient Greeks, Horus, Re, Sun God, Quoran, superstitious, Yogis, chakra, seat of the soul, René Descartes, atman, psyche, eyes to the soul, Ellsworth Kelly, Red, White and Blue, Democrats and Republicans, Joe Jonus

History is filled with centuries of curious art created with a view to the eyes and perspectives that have evolved across cultures, religions, ideologies and geography.

The Egyptians and Ancient Greeks were especially interested in the eye, believing it able to cast a curse.

The evil eye was a glare that could cause misfortune or injury. It could be stopped with the help of a protective talisman or careful preparations of the heart. Hanging a chain of small blue beads or wearing an amulet with the eye of Horus (the sky god and son of the sun god, Re) warded off evil. The eye makeup photo below by artist KelleyOnTheBeat illustrates a modern take on the eye of Horus symbol.

This notion of the evil eye is widespread in many Mediterranean countries, including the Arabic culture. Someone with envy or jealousy in their heart (described in the Arab world as having hassad or hasid) has an evil eye. The evil is believed to be like an arrow shot from the soul and if the intended victim is prepared, the hassad will have no effect. Reading a certain chapter from the Quran each day offers protection.

Solar eclipse, total eclipse of the heart, Bonnie Tyler, Great American Eclipse, 3 billion eclipses, doomsday prophecy, White House tension, socio-economic divides, fear, the eyes, Jay DeFeo, Whitney Museum, New York City, Bran Stark, Game of Thrones, Philip Lamantia, The Rose, duality of existence, evil eye, third eye blind, Egyptians, Ancient Greeks, Horus, Re, Sun God, Quoran, superstitious, Yogis, chakra, seat of the soul, René Descartes, atman, psyche, eyes to the soul, Ellsworth Kelly, Red, White and Blue, Democrats and Republicans, Joe JonusMany people remain superstitious and believe crystals like agate and gemstones like black onyx ward off evil spirits and negative energy. It’s no surprise some of the terms linking bad events with the eye are still used; for example, the worst part of a hurricane is the eye of the storm or the biblical justice of “an eye for an eye.”  

In contrast to the evil eye, people who are Third Eye Blind have clairvoyant abilities and can see the future. Having this extra or third eye is a powerful gift. My Irish father used to tease me about his all-seeing-eye in the back of his head. Of course, I knew as a child this was a lark, seeing no evidence of a gift on the back of his smooth bald head. To the contrary, I understood his teasing way of suggesting he was a father with all-seeing power.

Yogis and mystics believe we all have a third eye centered between our eyebrows. The colorful graphic below, is one of many artistic versions of this all-seeing-eye. Its mystic origin has been studied for more than 5,000 years years in the ancient world, with modern-day doctors and philosophers like René Descartes (1596–1650) explaining its powerful energy. Our chakra describes the place of wisdom and divine intuition where the third eye resides and can be awakened. Ancient Indians called this eye the atman and the Greeks, and the Romans said it was our psyche and the place of our human soul.

Solar eclipse, total eclipse of the heart, Bonnie Tyler, Great American Eclipse, 3 billion eclipses, doomsday prophecy, White House tension, socio-economic divides, fear, the eyes, Jay DeFeo, Whitney Museum, New York City, Bran Stark, Game of Thrones, Philip Lamantia, The Rose, duality of existence, evil eye, third eye blind, Egyptians, Ancient Greeks, Horus, Re, Sun God, Quoran, superstitious, Yogis, chakra, seat of the soul, René Descartes, atman, psyche, eyes to the soul, Ellsworth Kelly, Red, White and Blue, Democrats and Republicans, Joe JonusIn today’s world, the custom of looking a person in the eye when you shake their hand provides  a glimpse inside “these eyes to the soul” . It suggests a measure of the person’s character or their level of honesty is somehow manifest in their eyes. In this same way, we know a person from their smile and we know the eyes can forgive without the use of words.

Solar eclipse, total eclipse of the heart, Bonnie Tyler, Great American Eclipse, 3 billion eclipses, doomsday prophecy, White House tension, socio-economic divides, fear, the eyes, Jay DeFeo, Whitney Museum, New York City, Bran Stark, Game of Thrones, Philip Lamantia, The Rose, duality of existence, evil eye, third eye blind, Egyptians, Ancient Greeks, Horus, Re, Sun God, Quoran,  superstitious, Yogis, chakra, seat of the soul, René Descartes, atman, psyche, eyes to the soul, Ellsworth Kelly, Red, White and Blue, Democrats and Republicans, Joe JonusRemember the WomanScape story of performance artist Marina Abramovic? She sat across from her ex-husband and thousands of adoring fans at the Modern Museum of Art,  speaking only with her eyes and the tears that rolled down them.

There’s great comfort in knowing artists will continue to challenge the way we see the world, stimulating dialogue and pricking our conscience. Ellsworth Kelly, a Abstract artist whose work spanned seven decades, continued to dialogue about his American experience and view of our political system.

His Red, White and Blue painting (1961) hanging in the Whitney gives us a bird’s eye view of his political reality. In 2017, this painting on the right might be fracture into more pieces, with even more white white space dividing the Democrats and Republicans.

But what remains constant in this abstract work is the considered reflection of our party politics and our relation to them in the universe. Thankfully, artists continue to push and even protest, using and sharing their voices to wake up the world. The photo at the end of this article illustrates some of this art hanging as a retrospective exhibit in the Whitney Museum.

How we see this placement is very personal and we have the power to frame it under the banner of fear or enlightenment. As the shadow of the eclipse races across the earth, I will not be looking up at the sky. I didn’t buy protective eyewear and will instead play British singer Bonnie Tyler’s 1983 hit song “Total Eclipse of the Heart” on Pandora.

Bonnie is scheduled to be on the Royal Caribbean cruise in the Atlantic and will perform her song during the exact time of the eclipse alongside Joe Jonus. While I’ll sing Bonnie’s catchy tune, which speaks of love lost and the eclipse of darkness in her heart, I’ll rest on ancient words from the bible remind us that faith is the evidence of what we cannot see.

(Last stanza of Eclipse of the Heart)

Once upon a time I was falling in love

But now I’m only falling apart

There’s nothing I can do

A total eclipse of the heart

Once upon a time there was light in my life

But now there’s only love in the dark

Nothing I can say

A total eclipse of the heart

Solar eclipse, total eclipse of the heart, Bonnie Tyler, Great American Eclipse, 3 billion eclipses, doomsday prophecy, White House tension, socio-economic divides, fear, the eyes, Jay DeFeo, Whitney Museum, New York City, Bran Stark, Game of Thrones, Philip Lamantia, The Rose, duality of existence, evil eye, third eye blind, Egyptians, Ancient Greeks, Horus, Re, Sun God, Quoran, superstitious, Yogis, chakra, seat of the soul, René Descartes, atman, psyche, eyes to the soul, Ellsworth Kelly, Red, White and Blue, Democrats and Republicans, Joe Jonus

Art moves us to think, feel and experience. Why else do we visit galleries, gardens and museums?

Maria Lassnig, Woman Power, Pitti Palace, Florence, Italy, self-portrait, creative artist, Art Informel, Informel, geometric abstraction, Sleeping With the Tiger, portraiture, Golden Lion Award, Art Biennale, Cubism, Impressionism, It’s You or Me, equality, feminism, Arno River, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Moma, Modern Museum of Art

Artwork helps us enjoy and reflect while also explaining our history. If art provides a better understanding of self, consider what would your painted self-portrait look like?

Would it capture a physical likeness of being or would the process and the materials – the paint strokes and color palettes – resonate on a deeper level to be a more proximate reflection of self?

Enter one of the most significant artists of the twentieth century, Maria Lassnig (1919-2014). The blazing red banner hanging from the Pitti Palace in Florence, Italy announces her Woman Power exhibit as it roars through centuries of history, steeped in art produced by men.

Lassnig’s roar champions the powerful voice of women artists while also ushering in a new and unusual perspective on the creative process. Not only is this creative approach an important discussion of how Lassnig sees the influence of the world on her psyche, but it’s also a harbinger for the kind of reflective conversation we should be having in a world inundated with the pressures to conform.

Lassnig is typically described as an Austrian artist and pioneer of the feminist movement because of her quest for female emancipation. This is certainly an accurate description. Her work developed after the second war, at a time when women were exploring cultural confines and challenging the status quo and limitations to personal freedom.

The subject matter was also about women but with a new twist. Lassnig’s approach to her all-consuming subject was herself.

She focused on the self-portrait for almost all of her art, and made her physical image a backdrop to what she saw in the outside world. This shaped and expressed her perception of herself as a container for the inner feelings of the world.

This perspective was new to the world, especially with the added female lens. Lassnig was one of the early adopters of this art style, named after the French term Informel or Art Informel. This trailblazing creative process abandoned geometric abstraction for a more intuitive form of expression – a sort of action-art. The process is the action, and the action drives the methodology of her style as she focused more on gestural techniques.

Maria Lassnig, Woman Power, Pitti Palace, Florence, Italy, self-portrait, creative artist, Art Informel, Informel, geometric abstraction, Sleeping With the Tiger, portraiture, Golden Lion Award, Art Biennale, Cubism, Impressionism, It’s You or Me, equality, feminism, Arno River, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Moma, Modern Museum of Art

You can see this in her unusual works from photographs I took of the exhibit pieces. The painting above, Sleeping With the Tiger 1975, suggests she has made some peace with the animal as she holds the top of its powerful paw. This is a far cry from her earlier feelings, shown in the photos below. One shows shows her standing under herself, with a plastic layer that seems to suffocate her. She is muted and quiet, surrendering. The portrait next to this one, taken in 1981, is very different – a stunned look that is almost afraid or questioning.

Maria Lassnig, Woman Power, Pitti Palace, Florence, Italy, self-portrait, creative artist, Art Informel, Informel, geometric abstraction, Sleeping With the Tiger, portraiture, Golden Lion Award, Art Biennale, Cubism, Impressionism, It’s You or Me, equality, feminism, Arno River, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Moma, Modern Museum of Art
Maria Lassnig, Woman Power, Pitti Palace, Florence, Italy, self-portrait, creative artist, Art Informel, Informel, geometric abstraction, Sleeping With the Tiger, portraiture, Golden Lion Award, Art Biennale, Cubism, Impressionism, It’s You or Me, equality, feminism, Arno River, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Moma, Modern Museum of Art

Lassnig’s focused dialogue with her art spanned five decades, and included a variety of mediums including painting, film and sculpture. Foremost, she considered herself a painter. But,  her uniquely honest and egocentric approach catapulted her to greatness in Austria and the larger international stage. Her focus on self was certainly not vain and to the contrary, she was  acutely vulnerable as she openly displayed her feelings, her pain and her state of mind. In her own words, she admits she willingly took a scalpel to herself, not wanting to exploit others.

The two paintings below, the Potato Press (1989) and the Man Cutting Himself in Two (1986), show her evolution as a painter.  They are bolder and challenge conventional manifestations of self in relation to the outside world; her physiology is completely transformed and resembles nothing of the human form. They creatively move past any recognizable perception of self and into a world where external forces and influences make it increasingly more difficult to understand who we are and what we value.

Maria Lassnig, Woman Power, Pitti Palace, Florence, Italy, self-portrait, creative artist, Art Informel, Informel, geometric abstraction, Sleeping With the Tiger, portraiture, Golden Lion Award, Art Biennale, Cubism, Impressionism, It’s You or Me, equality, feminism, Arno River, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Moma, Modern Museum of Art

Maria Lassnig, Woman Power, Pitti Palace, Florence, Italy, self-portrait, creative artist, Art Informel, Informel, geometric abstraction, Sleeping With the Tiger, portraiture, Golden Lion Award, Art Biennale, Cubism, Impressionism, It’s You or Me, equality, feminism, Arno River, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Moma, Modern Museum of Art

These paintings force us to ask how we are responding to pressures and social messages. Lassnig feels like a potato in a press, squeezed and molded into a new shape that differs from its original form. The press is an apt symbol and the hot-colored red potato is squeezed into a grip. The scissor image is even sharper. Lassnig is cutting off her head which could mean any number of things from a severing of the emotional and intellectual to her frustration at the perceived male/female divisions in the world.  

How many of us feel these modern constraints and contexts influencing our ego? Can we be our true self or see our true self when society’s influences weigh so greatly on our self-awareness and subconscious? These insights are timely as women struggle to balance traditional and societal gender roles with a desire to be who we are free from these confines.  Men face these same questions. With ever-present influence of media and marketing campaigns that tell us to avoid pain, to create a happy persona on Facebook or to adopt populus attitudes about norms and expectations, how can we discover who we really are?   

This is the beauty of art and the brilliance of Maria Lassnig. She offers herself as a mirror of her time and circumstance, prompting us to consider our own notions of self. It’s no surprise Lassnig won the coveted Golden Lion Award for Lifetime achievement at Art Biennale in 2013, only a year before her death. Her work created a paradigm shift not unlike other art movements, such as Cubism or Impressionism. This exhibit is part of two annual shows that Italy’s Tourism Board has created to celebrate the accomplishments of women artists.

Maria Lassnig, Woman Power, Pitti Palace, Florence, Italy, self-portrait, creative artist, Art Informel, Informel, geometric abstraction, Sleeping With the Tiger, portraiture, Golden Lion Award, Art Biennale, Cubism, Impressionism, It’s You or Me, equality, feminism, Arno River, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Moma, Modern Museum of ArtAs Lassnig continued to challenge herself, her work became a more dramatic discussion. In this 2005 painting that was part of a 2014 exhibit at the Modern Museum of Art, It’s You or Me, I can’t help but wonder if Lassnig became totally disenchanted with the world and felt forced to make a choice: conforming to society’s expectations was nihilistic. Her physical image is more representative of her older physical self, hopefully suggesting she is no longer defined by the emotions of the world and claiming her own powerful self.  

I can only hope that women continue to gain a foothold in the art world, pushing their creativity as society stands up to the challenge of reframing the new reality: 51% of visual artists are women even though their art work in museums represents a disappointing 3-5% representation by female artists in permanent art collections in the U.S. and Europe, and a 34% representation in Australia.

While there are likely many reasons to explain why female artists have received less attention than their male counterparts in museums (a study that requires more in-depth discussion), these older constructs are no longer valid.  

Real progress will happen when the gender of an artist do not eclipse the focus of her artwork. We need to bridge our conversations in ways that are physical and the many bridges that link Florence across the Arno River (see the last photo). I continue to look for inspiration from artists like Lassnig, who unabashedly forged her own ideas, and from Georgia O’Keeffe, a well known post-modernist painter. O’Keeffe insisted her art should not be defined or interpreted in a sexualized way and she wanted her art to be recognized for her art.

Parting thought: if possible, visit the National Museum of Women in the Arts; the only museum in the world showcasing female-only artworks.

Maria Lassnig, Woman Power, Pitti Palace, Florence, Italy, self-portrait, creative artist, Art Informel, Informel, geometric abstraction, Sleeping With the Tiger, portraiture, Golden Lion Award, Art Biennale, Cubism, Impressionism, It’s You or Me, equality, feminism, Arno River, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Moma, Modern Museum of Art

Adriana Bertini: A Passion for Fashion for Good

Her unusual talent and passion for fashion turns discarded condoms into something good. Sounds crazy doesn’t it, but this talent has taken Adriana Bertini around the world visiting over 35 different countries in Asia, Africa, South America, North America, Europe and Oceania.

This inventive artistry has also caught the attention of celebs like Charlize Theron, Richard Gere, Bob Geldof and Elton John. I can’t imagine cutting and fashioning a condom 80 different ways, but this feat is even more impressive as her mind-boggling art collections – over 200 sculptures, 160 dresses and 80 tapestries – transform our understanding of sexual health, love and respect.

Adriana Bertini is a remarkable woman and native of São Paulo, Brazil. She started making haute couture clothing until she became disillusioned with society’s rampant material consumption. Bothered as well by the negative environmental footprint of consumerism and condoms (defective condoms from factories are incinerated and send toxic chemicals into the air), Adriana put her artistic talents to work uniting fashion and health.

Adriana Bertini: A Passion for Fashion for GoodAs a fashion activist for over twenty-five years, Adriana has devoted her time and talents to important social causes surrounding inequality, discrimination and stereotyping. Some of her greatest efforts include working with Amnesty International’s Brussel campaign to end female genital mutilation, as well as helping a variety of other non-governmental organizations and AIDS patients.

This kind of dedication is infectious and has become more popular among artists and celebrities who share Adriana’s passion for changing the world. Organizations like clothing brand H&M have also stepped up to partner for causes, like this 2008 t-shirt design glossing the cover of ELLE magazine. It was a collaborative project in support of Designers Against Aids (DAA).

Adriana’s collaboration with artist-friend Ninette Murk is also a great example of artists working together on projects like DAA. Adriana’s friend Ninette is the founder and creative director of DAA, and each year new initiatives like her Beauty Without Irony in 2008 raise financial support and awareness for AIDs, while also examining superficial perceptions of beauty.

Adriana was inspired by her work with Ninette and other fashion designers, but the heavy toll of her challenging volunteer work with AIDs patience started to negatively impact her life. The sadness of caring for so many sick and neglected people, who suffered from injustice and prejudice, weighed heavily on her artistic sensitivities.

The grief from losing friends impacted her physical, emotional and creative work, causing Adriana to rethink her approach.

Influenced by her father, a sociologist who taught her to believe anything was possible, Adriana knew she had the power to change the world with three simple tools: compassion, generosity and love.

Armed with this renewed spirit, Adriana shifted gears. She decided to focus on proactive health initiatives and educating younger generations. This moved the conversation away from treating diseases to positive conversations amongst families. Adrianna saw how many parents were uncomfortable talking to their kids about sexual health. As a result, young people weren’t aware of important questions relating to how they treated or viewed their own body. Attitudes about self-esteem, implications related to sexual behavior, the risks of infection from sexually transmitted diseases, gender identity, sexual abuse, discrimination, abortion and a long list of other considerations were simply ignored.

Adriana Bertini: A Passion for Fashion for Good

But where to start? There’s nothing like wowing an audience and this photo from journalist Leo Goulart does exactly that, illustrating the wow factor of Adriana’s creations. Adriana knew the social aspects of using condoms naturally tied into sexual health awareness, so she created amazing dresses and sculptures. Some of these dresses in the photo above used as many as 80,000 condoms and were fantastic attention-getters.

Even though most people don’t immediately identify her art with environmental consciousness, it certainly draws you in. By creating Condom Art Workshops, like the one described in the photo below, Adriana started collaborating with high schools and universities to build awareness around the use of condoms.

Adriana Bertini: A Passion for Fashion for Good

These workshops were an immediate success, and Adriana saw how much women in particular benefited.

Women learn they have the power to negotiate condom use and to protect themselves against sexually transmitted diseases. But deeper discussions about topics like self-esteem, respect your body, the purpose of sex, and loving yourself follow from these insightful conversations.

As the mother of two young children, Adriana can relate to the sensitive nature of these topics and the need for professional support from educators to guide students. Adriana has also welcomed a psychologist into her work to ensure education workshops are age appropriate and ideologically sensitive.  In a short time, Adriana watched as more parents and kids talked about sex and its complex issues, and this continued to push her to want to do more. The photo below shows Adriana’s stop in Senegal, as she travels the world sharing her vision.

Adriana Bertini: A Passion for Fashion for Good

Adriana believes it’s not enough to talk about condoms and more needs to be done to break stereotypes and stigmas surrounding their use. You can see kids at work in the photos below, as  Adriana creates internships and opportunities that inspire a new generation of leaders. Eventually, Adriana would like to open her museum and work space dedicated to growing her cause. She’s open to partnering with organizations and hopes that one day everyone will see  condoms as a second skin.

Adriana Bertini: A Passion for Fashion for Good
Adriana Bertini: A Passion for Fashion for Good

I think it was destiny that helped me discover Adriana’s incredible story. Pursuing research for another article brought me to New York’s Museum of  Sex on 5th Avenue. The museum was completely underwhelming and filled with racy collections, except for one glass enclosed case. Inside was a mesmerizing purple party dress that was part of an exhibit tracing the evolution of the condom.

Adriana Bertini: A Passion for Fashion for GoodThe New York Times had written a piece about Adriana but the 1,200 hand-dyed purple condoms (pictured left) moved me to want to learn more about its creator. The dress promoted the condom as a image of prevention and pleasure and I knew I had seen one like it about seven years before in Bangkok, Thailand.

I had dined with my cousin in a restaurant called Condoms and Cabbages; where a portion of all sales helped undeserved populations have access to birth control. I still remember the odd looking Santa and Thai woman condom costumes in the middle of the restaurant, a popular tourist site. A small sign drew attention to the need for safe sex and  awareness about HIV. Evidence of declining HIV infections in Thailand suggests programs like these are working.

Adriana Bertini: A Passion for Fashion for GoodWhen I asked Adriana about this restaurant, she admitted that many of her creations have been copied. She had worked on an exhibit in Thailand in 2004 and answered questions about her designs before the restaurant was opened. Whether this was coincidence or not, Adriana is flattered and focused on the larger impact that her work serves.

Adriana and the creators of WomanScape share a common belief – that art has the power to change the world and to build greater self-awareness and understanding. So I couldn’t help but smile when Adriana added that she took solace in Coco Chanel who believed that if you want to be original, you should get ready to be copied.  Like Coco who blazed a trail in the fashion industry, Adriana is doing that and more with her determination and creativity.

If you’d like to know more or connect with Adriana, she can be reached through Instagram @AdrianaBertini or on Facebook. You can also contact Adriana by email at: condomart@gmail.com

The Art of Food

The Art of Food and Power of NatureThe view from the sandy shores of Whales Beach and the culinary delights of Jonah’s restaurant are two of the purest joys in life. They’re a source of renewed faith in the world, particularly when life feels overwhelming and news outlets are mired in troubling domestic and global politics. The waters are a quiet haven nestled in New South Wales, and its serene beauty provides a fresh, meditative perspective on the trans-formative powers of nature and her bounty of feasts.

Although my first visit to Australia was filled with mesmerizing water and aerial views, from my Sydney Harbour Bridge climb to cruising across local waterways, I think most about this small parcel of land and its riches. I can still close my eyes and see the expansive blue waters, the rocky clifftops, and the houses dotting the verdant hills. Better yet, I can still savor the culinary flavors of creative dishes whose artistry helped me to escape the depressing tastes of PESTs – my acronym for stressors that include political, economic, social and technological pushes – in my mouth.

The Art of Food and Power of Nature

 

Looking at the culinary photos from my lunch at Jonah’s, it’s easy to see why their menu is so appealing. The restaurant uses fresh local produce, making Jonah’s one of Australia’s most award-winning restaurants. It has a history that dates back over 85 years and its contemporary Australian menus (from a la carte offerings to seasonal tasting menus) are all designed by chef Logan Campbell. Additional information is available at Jonah’s website.

Below are three photos, illustrating our first course – an appetizer mix seared carpaccio of alpaca loin, yellow beetroot, parmesan cheese, and plantain with a sprinkling of blackberries. This was followed by two different salads – one a combination of fresh grapefruit slices with simple mixed greens and fennel, and the other a delicious fig and buffalo mozzarella cheese combo with roasted pear and almonds.

Our main entrees and dessert were naturally the highlights: one pan-seared North Atlantic scallops dinner with light greens and a cauliflower puree, topped with pine nuts; the other, perfectly prepared sea bass with a beet puree and vegetables, outlined in a savory root sauce. The two lower photos of dessert were just sweet enough. The hot apple & cinnamon crumb pie with Manuka honey and a compliment of lavender ice cream and chocolate mousse ganache did not disappoint.

The Art of Food and Power of NatureThe Art of Food and Power of NatureThe Art of Food and Power of NatureThe Art of Food and Power of Nature

No fine dining experience is complete without an exceptional wine cellar. While I didn’t document any of the delicious wine pairings with each course, the restaurant’s cellar holds more than  1,600 bottles of domestic and international wines so the sommelier had lots of choice. The meal was sumptuous and  visually artful. I’m sure the many celebrities who frequent the restaurant or stay for this quiet luxury weekend getaway come back for the dining experience and the scenic views. You can see Whale Beach and 180 degree views of the Pacific Ocean from the walk-out patio overlooking the bay or from one of only 11 relaxing guest rooms.

The Art of Food and Power of NatureThankfully, my travel to Jonah’s included per-arranged transportation. The intoxicating wine made for a sleepy return to my hotel back in Sydney.

Traveling to this northern beach was almost as exciting as the dining experience. The journey 30 miles north of Sydney provided an incredible view of Australia’s beautiful landscape.

My husband and I booked a Sydney Seaplane package that included a small shuttle boat from our hotel in the Sydney harbor to Rose Bay, where we boarded a small prop plane. The water was calm but the roar of the engine was loud enough to cut through the silencing headphones. Flying conditions were ideal with clear skies and few clouds, that seemed to dissipate as we traveled over the water.

Sitting in the front seat next to the pilot was a dream come true, as I imagined what it must have been like for Amelia Earhart, the first female to fly solo over the Atlantic ocean. I was content to keep land in sight and to enjoy the Aussie greenery that looked greener than Ireland’s Ring of Kerry. Our flight lasted about 30 minutes before we landed on the expansive Pittwater waterways and a Jonah’s courtesy vehicle ferried us to the island pier.

The Art of Food and Power of Nature

When it was time to return to Sydney, I knew I would cherish this unique experience forever. Food has a way of bringing people together and helping us to appreciate cultures all over the world. It has become a unique driver in the travel industry, as people explore their love of nature’s bounty. In a globalized world, this shared love of food is forging new friendships. Hospitality is at our doorstep, whether it’s a seaplane away or welcoming us into the garden of our own backyard. Happiness is a state of mind. When we relish the simple joys of food, nature and travel, we welcome joyful living.

The Art of Food and Power of Nature

Sugar Queen, Queen B, Beyonce, Queen Latifah, Queen Victoria, Queen of the Nile, Queen of Diamonds, Queen of the Desert, Bugatti Queen, Goodwood Revival Festival, Goodwood, Lord March, Earl of March, Goodwood Estate, Lancaster, Spitfire, Bridget Jones, French Grand Prix Race, Helle Nice, Helene Delangle, Josephine Baker, Helle, Ettore Bugatti, Bugatti, Monte Carlo Rally, Miranda Seymour

Ever think about the number of successful queens in the entertainment industry? There’s the sweet success of Oprah’s new Sugar Queen – a series about a modern-day mother named Charley Bordelon who runs a sugarcane farm in Louisiana. And who can forget Beyoncé, the royal queen B whose superstardom rivals one of my long-standing favorites, comedic actress and singer Queen Latifah. I’m forever fascinated by the many women who call themselves queen. Whether it’s  Queen Victoria, Queen of the Nile (Katharine Hepburn) or the recent WomanScape Queen of the Desert article, I don’t know if any of them rival one of the most moving stories you’ll ever hear. I’m talking about the Bugatti Queen.

The Bugatti Queen tore through the pages of history and onto my radar a few years back at the annual Goodwood Revival Festival. I’m a fan of antique cars and powerful engines, so it’s fitting that I met my girl there after striking up a casual conversation with a group of women standing around some pretty nice roadsters. This backdrop couldn’t have been more perfect.

Sugar Queen, Queen B, Beyonce, Queen Latifah, Queen Victoria, Queen of the Nile, Queen of Diamonds, Queen of the Desert, Bugatti Queen, Goodwood Revival Festival, Goodwood, Lord March, Earl of March, Goodwood Estate, Lancaster, Spitfire, Bridget Jones, French Grand Prix Race, Helle Nice, Helene Delangle, Josephine Baker, Helle, Ettore Bugatti, Bugatti, Monte Carlo Rally, Miranda SeymourGoodwood is an annual three day festival held every September at the Goodwood Circuit Racetrack, 60 miles outside of London, England. The event celebrates the best of British vintage fashions from the 40’s through the 80’s. Luxury car makers like Maserati, DeLorean, Ferrari and Aston Martin flock there to test car engines and relive the glory days of antique car racing.

The 12,000 acre park welcomes over 150,000 people who come from around the world. They cheer celebrity car drivers like Mr. Bean (Rowan Atkinson) and enjoy exciting air shows featuring old Lancaster and Spitfire bomber planes. Music shows and vintage markets are added attractions, and big ticket sponsors of the event attend the invitation-only charity dinner hosted by the Earl of March on Saturday night.

Sugar Queen, Queen B, Beyonce, Queen Latifah, Queen Victoria, Queen of the Nile, Queen of Diamonds, Queen of the Desert, Bugatti Queen, Goodwood Revival Festival, Goodwood, Lord March, Earl of March, Goodwood Estate, Lancaster, Spitfire, Bridget Jones, French Grand Prix Race, Helle Nice, Helene Delangle, Josephine Baker, Helle, Ettore Bugatti, Bugatti, Monte Carlo Rally, Miranda SeymourWhen I arrive at the festival in my rented fawn-colored dress and head of curly hair decorated with oversized sunglasses, I’ve traveled back in time with the other attendees. Lord Freddie March, a proud patriot and car racing enthusiast, is the owner of Goodwood Estate and grandson of the Earl of March; he’s pictured opening the event. The Earl built the track in 1948 to showcase race cars and warplanes, flown by British and Canadian airmen using his property as a secret refueling station during WWII.

Sugar Queen, Queen B, Beyonce, Queen Latifah, Queen Victoria, Queen of the Nile, Queen of Diamonds, Queen of the Desert, Bugatti Queen, Goodwood Revival Festival, Goodwood, Lord March, Earl of March, Goodwood Estate, Lancaster, Spitfire, Bridget Jones, French Grand Prix Race, Helle Nice, Helene Delangle, Josephine Baker, Helle, Ettore Bugatti, Bugatti, Monte Carlo Rally, Miranda Seymour

As I wander among the impressive rows of car paddocks, admiring the machinery and the costumed people walking by, I see three purring convertibles – a creamy Bonnie and Clyde looking roadster, a silver-blue speedster like the one from the first Bridget Jones movie and a rich, forest-green machine.  I fire questions at a beautiful, twenty-something redhead and another blonde dressed in a white, hourglass mechanic’s outfit.

Sugar Queen, Queen B, Beyonce, Queen Latifah, Queen Victoria, Queen of the Nile, Queen of Diamonds, Queen of the Desert, Bugatti Queen, Goodwood Revival Festival, Goodwood, Lord March, Earl of March, Goodwood Estate, Lancaster, Spitfire, Bridget Jones, French Grand Prix Race, Helle Nice, Helene Delangle, Josephine Baker, Helle, Ettore Bugatti, Bugatti, Monte Carlo Rally, Miranda SeymourThere’s an entire pit crew of bond-esque women working the park and the racetrack. Some are dressed in pink and violet jumpsuits (see the photo further down) helping to stagger the cars for the start of the race. Others are in white or blue jumpsuits mingling with the attendees like me.

Thankfully the girl from the silver blue car agrees to pose for pictures as we discuss what it was like for women behind the wheel in the 20’s. At a time when many women raced to the altar for a Mrs., a groups of women around Europe were racing to the finish line in the French Grand Prix Women’s event.

Sugar Queen, Queen B, Beyonce, Queen Latifah, Queen Victoria, Queen of the Nile, Queen of Diamonds, Queen of the Desert, Bugatti Queen, Goodwood Revival Festival, Goodwood, Lord March, Earl of March, Goodwood Estate, Lancaster, Spitfire, Bridget Jones, French Grand Prix Race, Helle Nice, Helene Delangle, Josephine Baker, Helle, Ettore Bugatti, Bugatti, Monte Carlo Rally, Miranda SeymourWomen of the 20’s were already pushing the boundaries of fashion and traditional rules in risqué flapper fashions, from low cut dresses and exposed knees, to rocking R&B tunes in smoky, dark speakeasies. New freedoms came as the Suffragette movement earned the vote for women in Britain, other parts of Europe and the United States; even though women in France couldn’t vote until 1944.

But the standout beauty I was enthralled with at Goodwood was a fantastic Bugatti car, and the story behind its driver was mind-blowing. After moving to Paris in her teens, Helene Delangle became Hellé Nice, an exotic dancer who worked in risqué dance halls like the Casino de Paris. These were the same kind of “establishments” where the famed American beauty, Josephine Baker, worked.

Hellé met wealthy club patrons, including the wealthy French car manufacturer Ettore Bugatti. He introduced her to life in the fast lane until she fell in a horrible ski accident. The injuries ruined her dance career but spawned a new one, when she traded her dance shoes for racing gloves. She jumped at Bugatti’s offer to drive his Type 35C racecar in five major Grand Prix races in France.  The photo below is a Bugatti Type 35C sold at Sotheby’s Auction in 2014 for $638,000.

Sugar Queen, Queen B, Beyonce, Queen Latifah, Queen Victoria, Queen of the Nile, Queen of Diamonds, Queen of the Desert, Bugatti Queen, Goodwood Revival Festival, Goodwood, Lord March, Earl of March, Goodwood Estate, Lancaster, Spitfire, Bridget Jones, French Grand Prix Race, Helle Nice, Helene Delangle, Josephine Baker, Helle, Ettore Bugatti, Bugatti, Monte Carlo Rally, Miranda SeymourHellé soon discovered that the press loved her trail of blonde curls and her shameless bravado. She was given the nickname “Bugatti Queen” when newspapers reported stories of love affairs and a larger-than-life personality.

Just as Hellé was enjoying her success, she crashed her car  in 1936 on a Brazilian racetrack. Narrowly escaping death after her car somersaulted through the air and ejected her, she became even larger than life. The Brazilians idolized her when she woke from a three-day coma and left the hospital two months later.

With the onset of World War II, the racing scene slowed.  Hellé planned her comeback in a Monte Carlo Rally in 1949, but a fellow driver wrongly accused her of conspiring with the Nazis during WWII. The scandal ruined any chance at a return to racing and made her unemployable.

Eventually, Hellé was cleared of the charges but the damage was done. She had competed in more than seventy events and pioneered female race car driving. Sadly, she died forgotten and penniless. Yet, her fearless approach to life lives on in Miranda Seymour’s  book about Helle’s riveting life; The Bugatti Queen.

Sugar Queen, Queen B, Beyonce, Queen Latifah, Queen Victoria, Queen of the Nile, Queen of Diamonds, Queen of the Desert, Bugatti Queen, Goodwood Revival Festival, Goodwood, Lord March, Earl of March, Goodwood Estate, Lancaster, Spitfire, Bridget Jones, French Grand Prix Race, Helle Nice, Helene Delangle, Josephine Baker, Helle, Ettore Bugatti, Bugatti, Monte Carlo Rally, Miranda Seymour

As modern women continue to break conventional rules and expectations, Hellé confidence in a male dominated sport stands out. Sarah Edwards, featured in a WomanScape’s Queen of Diamonds article, reminded me of Hellé. They both exude a strength and conviction necessary for overcoming stereotypes. I wonder if Hellé’s career would have turned out differently had she been a man and no so outspoken and unconventional. Nothing can change Hellé’s French Grand Prix victory at the autodrome de Linas in 1929, and her courage can only inspire more women to race to their own finish lines with the same racer’s spirit.

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