My Jubilee

Recently having turned 75, I think that respectable age qualifies for a jubilee celebration. At least I’m jubilant.  To celebrate this auspicious occasion, I had a portrait taken by the talented local photographer Carolyn Wright of the Photography Studio.  For the first time ever, I must say that this picture does me justice, and I’ve already featured it on my homepage.

Richard Balthazar, Writer and Artist

I jubilate in celebration of my many blessings:

First, having grown up, had a family, and gotten old in this country (USA)—where I’ve been ostensibly free, in spite of spending most of my life as an outlaw (gay), and could make a reasonable living doing what I like (arts, education, horticulture…). That covers many bases.

Next, having been in extraordinarily good health all my life. There have been a few medical emergencies and curable conditions, but especially in these later years I seem to have crafted a very healthful diet and regimen of physical activity (gym and dancing).  I try not to be too proud of my deceptively youthful (and handsome) appearance above and am more than happy to tell anyone my anti-aging secret (Kombucha).

Also, having had such exciting experiences, like trips all over around this country and into Canada and Mexico, fascinating festivals (esp. Mardi Gras and lots of Gay Pride celebrations), and wonderful performances by fantastic artists. I’ve lived a culturally rich life style.

On this my jubilee, I also jubilate big time over the exceptional things I’ve accomplished, though they may not have made me rich or famous. My jubilee is the perfect time to toot my own horn—since nobody else is going to.  So here goes:  Toot!

  1. Won an essay contest in high school (1958) and represented Arkansas representative at the First National Youth Conference on the Atom in Atlantic City. I still have my essay on atomic energy, and its blue-ink penmanship still reads intelligently, if archaically.
  2. Sailed gaily through college at Tulane in the early 1960’s with a double major in Russian and French Quarter debauchery and made Phi Beta Kappa.
  3. Wrote a Master’s thesis and a few doctoral dissertations in the later 60’s, contributing exactly nothing to world knowledge, but they got me a job teaching at a university.
  4. Appeared in theatrical productions: ballet (peasant in Coppelia, 1970), play (sailor in The Tempest, 1971), and operas (extra in Prokofiev’s War and Peace at Wolftrap, 1975, and supernumerary cardinal in Lalo’s Le Roi d’Ys, 1980, on Broadway, no less).
  5. Coached the Paul Hill Chorale to sing Kabalevsky’s Requiem in Russian at the Kennedy Center In 1975 and translated for the composer in interviews and social occasions.
  6. Was a stage interpreter with the Bolshoi Opera in Lincoln and Kennedy Centers In 1976 and got to watch their repertoire many times over (from down-stage left).
  7. Translated Tchaikovsky’s opera Maid of Orleans into English for productions by the Canadian Opera Company, 1978, and Detroit Opera Theatre, 1979. This was my first truly artistic achievement, a triumph of rhymed triplets in iambic pentameter. Toot-toot!  I’ve included a poetical excerpt in my Public Library for your enjoyment.
  8. Wrote the play The Special Case, a detective drama drawn from Dostoevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment, which was produced by the Santa Fe Community Theatre in 1990 and ran for two weeks to no reviews. An actor praised it as “a Russian Colombo.” Yes.  It can be read (and is available free for production) in my Public Library.
  9. Discovered the suppressed subject of the Indian Mounds, spent about 15 years researching them, and finally published Remember Native America, a mound travelogue, in 1992. It has since been superseded by much more research and revision of timelines, but all the same, it’s available here for free download.
  10. Discovered the neglected subject of the Aztec calendar, spent some five years drawing, and published Celebrate Native America, a new book of days, in 1993 with my artwork and an abortive attempt to proclaim a Sixth Sun, also available here for free download.
  11. Created a unique and exciting profession in 1997, spending 15 years as the Used Plant Man  (or the Iris Man in summer), a plant recycler at the Farmers Market, maybe not an artistic achievement, but I spread beautiful iris all over town. Good enough.
  12. Built an innovative greenhouse in 2000, a semi-subterranean, ecologically efficient structure for raising cacti, succulents, and ornamentals for market. Again maybe not artistic, but it was definitely an architectural achievement .
  13. Wrote the novella Bat in a Whirlwind (over about 30 years), an autobiographical story of almost coming out in the backwoods, published electronically on this website, 2015. Click here for free download.
  14. Wrote the novel Divine Debauch (over maybe 25 years), fictionalizing my dissolute years in the French Quarter, published by AuthorHouse.com , 2005. It really needs a rewrite, but I haven’t the energy or time. Meanwhile, it’s still a great gay read.
  15. Wrote the handbook Getting Get, a glossary of the English verb, (after 40 years of linguistic research), published by AuthorHouse.com , 2006, but also available electronically for free by clicking here.  Frankly, it’s my work of genius.
  16. Wrote the memoir There Was a Ship covering my time in in Seattle (1965-66), published electronically on this website, 2016. Click here for free download. It’s the story of a gay man going (kicking and screaming) back into the closet.
  17. Wrote the biography Ms. Yvonne, the secret life of my mother, published electronically on this website, 2016. Click here for free download. It was fascinating detective work and much photo restoration to uncover the life of a survivor of Hurricane Katrina.
  18. Wrote the unique reference on the Aztecs, YE GODS! an illustrated encyclopedia of deities, an essay on the surviving Pre-Conquest codices, and a coloring book of thirteen of my icon drawings based on images in the codices, published electronically on this website, 2017. Click here for free download of the separate sections.

Goodness! That was almost a whole horn concerto of jubilee toots.

 

I won’t be able toot about anything else for a while. I’ve only just begun a second memoir, this one about gay life in the carefree 1970’s, and there are still 13 more icons to draw for YE GODS!  You’ll be the first to hear about any new achievements.

The Iris Man

What a wonderful May! For the first time in maybe ten years I’ve got a stellar flowering of iris.  Every spring the buds would be forming and then it would freeze hard enough in vicious late April to turn their buds into what I disgustedly call “corpsicles.”

I feel so heartily happy about the exceptional display of my iris this year because for a great long while those exquisite flowers/plants provided my livelihood. For fifteen years, as noted elsewhere, I was the Iris Man at the Santa Fe Farmers Market (1997-2012), and these amazing blooms bring back fond memories of the indescribable varieties I sold and the beautiful gardens I worked in.  Driving around town now, I admire iris beds I planted long ago and rejoice in how well they grow.

Well, the Iris Man is back! This year, while the days often got unseasonably warm, it stayed quite cold at night, and I guess that held the rhizomes back a bit.  Also we didn’t get our usual late freeze.  When those enthusiastic bloom stalks started emerging from the fans of leaves, I was on pins and needles watching the weather.  Then each day became a new thrill with the opening of another variety.  They should last another week.

Here are several of my prize varieties with their names—if I know. Could somebody please identify the unknowns for me.  (Use the comment doohickey below.)  I haven’t included the more common yellows, reds, or pinks, though they are all equally gorgeous, if you know what I mean.  I was sad that two of my favorites didn’t make it to flower this year:  Loud Music and Heartbreak Hotel.  Maybe next year.

Iris blooms, 2016

Iris blooms, 2016

 

 

A Decade Ago

Two weeks into the New Year may be a bit late, but I’m inclined to reminisce about life as I knew it a decade ago. I feel like, you know, doing some spontaneous memoir-izing.  Indulge a few fond ‘memoiries,’ if you will.  Let’s look back on when I was still the Grandfatherly Gay Character around Santa Fe, 2005-2006, sole proprietor and employee of Babylon Gardens Salvage Nursery.  Oddly, of my two previous careers, it was the most wonderful and fulfilling.

Though I’d supposedly “retired” on early Social Security in 2004 from a long career of arts administration, I‘d kept on working half-time in local nonprofit organizations (including education, health care, and philanthropy), for minimal compensation, of course. For some years I’d been happily working on grants and technical assistance programs with the Santa Fe Community Foundation and then in April 2006 decided to move over to manage a new state-wide organization of nonprofits called NGO-NM.  The sad finale to my illustrious administrative career was having to close that worthy effort down at the end of the year.  I still have the incised plastic door-plaque somewhere.

My 2005-6 season (speaking both academically and organizationally) started quite dramatically in August with Hurricane Katrina. Residing in Metairie, my elderly mother (87) lived through it, sheltering at Bonabelle High School.  Of course, that’s a remarkable story in itself.  When she finally made it here to New Mexico—on her own! —to stay with me, I convinced her to write about the historic event for her descendants.  Soon I should type it up and post it for them and you.

In late November 2005 when at least Metairie was back to functioning again, I drove Mother home. Miraculously her home was essentially undamaged, no flooding at all as it stands atop a vestigial ridge between Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi.  A few blocks north or south had been six feet under water.  Personally, I’m inclined to attribute her good fortune to a Kwan Yin I’d given her.  Compassionately, the female Buddha still stood on a console directly across from a thin aluminum picture window to the southeast, having apparently peacefully faced down Katrina, the monster storm of the new century.  Meanwhile the big maple at that corner of the house had snapped off about four feet above the ground and merely fallen on the yard.

As if I weren’t being creative enough with the organization work, soon as I got back to Santa Fe for the holidays with my local family (grandson then just over three), I went back to work on my weird linguistic hobby of some 40 years, a structural definition of the innocuous English verb ‘get.’ By the time I started with NGO-NM, it was ready to publish with http://www.AuthorHouse.com, then under a different name, entitled “Getting Get, the Glossary of a Wild Verb,” which came online in November.  Sometimes since, I’ve humbly suggested to forbearing friends that this absurd little pamphlet could well be my work of genius.  If only anyone but I were eccentric enough to see its simple profundity.

NEWS FLASH:

GETTING GET is posted on this website for free download.

Just right click here and do it.

You probably already know, however, that Santa Fe’s notorious for poor folks having to work multiple jobs to get by. Accordingly, besides organizing stuff and defining the wild verb, I spent a miraculous third half of my time as the famous Used Plant Man at the Santa Fe Farmers Market.  In honor of my signature product, in the summers I turned into the infamous Iris Man.

Every Saturday morning, and Tuesdays in summers, I peddled previously-nurtured, restored, or recycled house plants. Not mention that in my spare time I did what I cleverly and artistically called ‘land-shaping,’ which involved terracing, rock walls, and laying flagstone patios.  In other words, I played around digging in various folks’ yards, gardens, and sandboxes.

2005 in the greenhole

2005 in the greenhole

2005 in my booth

2005 in my booth

That greenhouse was of my own design and construction. I called it my ‘greenhole,’ literally a hole I dug six feet deep and slapped a plastic roof over it .

The Greenhole

The Greenhole

The only other infrastructure for the business were folding tables, a portable pop-up tent with the proud banner of Babylon Gardens,

2006 booth at Farmers Market

2006 booth at Farmers Market

And the gallant Grover (the Grey, like Gandalf), a 1970 Chevy C-10 pickup. Grover hauled load after load of plants and paraphernalia through so many pre-dawns and then stood nearby for thousands of touristic snapshots of a typical Santa Fe scene.

Grover the Grey

Grover the Grey

As if doing meaningful work for society, publishing a fantastic book, and selling spectacular plants weren’t enough, in June, 2006 I came out as an artist in an art show for the Santa Fe Gay Pride celebration. I’d earned the gay category 45 years earlier, also in June.  I showed three pieces:  the assemblage shrine Bull of the Sun, the carved sandstone Venus, and my very first piece of digital art, the cover for my novel “Gymnopedie.”

NEWS FLASH:

“Gymnopedie” the novel has been withdrawn from publication and

rewritten as a backwoods novella called “Bat in a Whirlwind,”

available for free download by right-clicking here.

2006 publicity with baby jade

2006 publicity with baby jade

While we’re at it, I want to share with you a picture of one of my favorite plants in the greenhole. Soon I really should do a post with more stuff on the wondrous plants I had in there.  This one has an outrageous Latin name I loved reciting to folks:  pachyphytum oviferum amethystinum (fat-leafed, egg-shaped, amethyst).  Here it is in bloom in 2005.

Pachyphytum Oviferum Amethystinum

Pachyphytum Oviferum Amethystinum

The Farmers Market always went outdoors somewhere in late April around my birthday, and in both the 2005 and 2006 seasons that was on the wide-open corner of Guadalupe and Cerrillos skirting the railroad tracks behind SITE Santa Fe. In my humble used plant vendor opinion that point out there in view of two busy streets was the perfect, I mean the ideal, location for our wonderful community market.

In years past we’d simply popped up our tents, if we had one, further north along the tracks across Paseo de Peralta behind Santa Fe Clay. (And in years before my time, it had been in the parking lot of Sanbusco Center.)  Now almost all the vendors, including makeshift Babylon Gardens, flew a white canopy like a flag to be seen from all around.  We were truly a spectacle of folk life that made me proud.

As a matter of fact, it seemed a vindication of the pleasure a certain clueless kid once enjoyed in peddling peaches in a booth beside the highway. It was that splendid interaction with people around a subject you deeply love and the thrilling opportunity to share the work of your own hands with them.  Every day, even the slow ones, I loved the glory of hawking my beautiful plants, talking about them and how they like to be treated.  In a word, it was a trip.

Ironically, the fortuitous move from the hinterlands of the railyard up to this prime spot was caused by big city projects afoot for the neglected old railyard. I believe the powers that be moved the Market out where people could see it to get support for the new building they were preparing in those same hinterlands as an indoor place for us in the winters.

Among other opponents of that project, I felt the current arrangement, as I said before, was ideal. For the winter seasons, we’d been going indoors at El Museo Cultural, and vended there happily, even with poor lighting and no call for flashy tents.  It felt very folksy, local farmer cultural.

But the majority of vendors, or at least the power that were at the time, had their hearts set on a fancy market hall like in Boston or Seattle or wherever. This ambition caused a whole bunch of trouble, but don’t get me started.

(Can’t help it. For just a few repercussions.  Before the building was even done, the Trust for Public Land and other powers kicked the Market off that superb spot on the busy corner to make the new Railyard Park.  I suggested, clearly not vociferously enough, that they design that great space on the corner for a fancy open market plaza for us farmers and for other fairs on other days.  Irony Alert:  My sweet old vending space is now in a rotunda of rose gardens where few people care to walk.  Roses to be smelled and not sold.

Kicking us out made the Market wander for a couple summers around parking lots. The summer beside the DeVargas Center was a huge come-down, but in more levels of irony, our summer of 2008 in the almost ideal PERA lot was the most spectacular in the history of my unorthodox nursery.  To make matters worse for us gypsy farmers, for some reason we also lost the El Museo space and had to spend a winter in a grungy industrial place on Cerrillos Road.  Again the irony, it had once upon a time been a gay nightclub, the Cargo Club, I think it was called.  Or Club Luna?  I’d gone there only a few times to dance.)

At any rate, between Market days Grover and I would tootle all over town and even out to Espanola or Eldorado to grub freely in folks’ iris beds or do plant rescues or paid land-shaping jobs. It was a splendid gimmick, an ingenious concept if I say so myself.  I provided a free, much-appreciated community service and turned my (minimal) physical labor into totally free merchandise.  No overhead except gas for good old Grover.  Good job for an old guy.

Frequently folks gave me way more plants than I could ever hope to sell at the Market. Like 500 lb. of blue iris?  I’d just give them away.  Once I got a whole greenhouse collection from an estate and recycled (propagated) thousands of new plants to give away to garden clubs, school classes, and anybody I could foist them off on.  I always kept a FREE box at my booth, and folks checked it frequently for adoptions.  I joked that I was a “philplanthropist.”

Sometimes I’d simply show up at a business or office building, like that time at the Toney Anaya Building when I marched in and told the receptionist, “I’ve got a giant jade tree that wants to live in your lobby.” A couple times I simply arranged for gigantic plants to go to great spots like at the Capitol complex or other public spaces.  They had to do the hauling though.

A decade ago I was a plant freak in his element, and my only problem was believing what a happy old man I was. Even older now, I’m still a happy fellow—and I believe it.

Reading a Tapestry

Giving myself a brief vacation from posting anything, I got lost in a great trance of drawing for the YE GODS! coloring book, closing in on Icon #6:  Huehuecoyotl.  Watch for it!

Back on my home page I remarked that this blog would be egregious essays, and now I’m going to write about something exquisitely egregious.

Last week I also took a break to wander around the consignment stores in my neighborhood.  It’s always fun to admire lovely people, places, or things.  Recently I’ve been trying to stop accumulating and instead to give things away, but I ran across something in my wander that I had to possess.

As a birthday present I bought myself an intriguing tapestry.  It bears a “Certificate of Authenticity of Belgian Art” from the Gobelin Center in Brussels stating that this is “a reproduction as good as the original work” from an 18th Century original in the “Tentures des Indes” series.  The title is “Cheval drapé,” which means “draped horse” and isn’t very helpful.

Cheval Drape - repro Gobelin tapestry

Cheval Drape – repro Gobelin tapestry

At 3’ wide x 4’ high, it fits nicely on the wall behind my work station and can be easily viewed, which I did closely for some days after hanging it.  What a strange mix of creatures:  horse (with groom), camel, flamingo, other birds, fishes, flowers, fruiting tree (looks like a pomegranate), and exotic shrubs.  Is that a pineapple?  What the…?

I googled images for the title and found the tapestry available on amazon and ebay, as well as with a tapestry retailer.  Looking up other Gobelin tapestries, I found examples using the draped horse in other settings and with other images like a South American Indian on horseback, a llama, and a black groom with bow.  One had a Greek temple in the background  without a groom.  There’s even one with a horse of a different color and drape pattern, black groom, camel, llama, and monkey which truly defies understanding.

There seemed no rhyme nor reason to the variations on this theme, yet I couldn’t help thinking that mine at least has to have some story behind it.  And whether or not the designer had this in mind, here’s how I’m reading this tapestry.  While the red-lined drape on the horse demands attention, the actual focal point is the camel looming there against the bright sky.  Immediate given:  this is in Egypt.  See, there’s the desert and palm trees.  Therefore the river in the foreground must be the Nile.  Witness the African flamingo.

So here we have a horse being led to water by a groom in a Greek chiton, and what a horse.  Look at the gold rosettes on his harness, the apparently jeweled straps—and the regal brocade drape with satin lining.  This is a royal horse.  Okay, what royal horse would be in Egypt with a Greek groom?  There could be only one, even if it was described in legend as black with a white star on the brow:  Bucephalus, the beloved warhorse of Alexander the Great.  It’s no wonder the Macedonian horse looks so warily at this first camel he’s ever seen.

As far as I’m concerned, the title of this tapestry is now “Bucephalus in Egypt.”  So there.  And I’m pleased with my birthday present, even if it is a horse of a different color.

 

SANITY BREAK

About a week ago a newer dear friend kindly read the first chapter of my supposedly completed memoir, and his comments gave me a wonderful new perspective on that crucial year of my life (1964-65).  Note the half-century since…  So I happily took some days off from my obsessive routine of drawing and writing to chew on the dramatic implications of this insight.

It quickly cast a new light on my earlier life periods and the present memoir project (1965-66), but I wouldn’t let myself look yet at what it reveals even across this half-century since.  When I can look at that later stuff, I know it will probably explain a lot more of the person I now am.  My friend gifted me an epiphany, or at least a revelation.  May he forever walk in beauty!

The hardest part of the excitement was to keep myself from jumping right into the rewrite.  Artistically I knew that I should “grok” this thing thoroughly before writing another word.  Besides, I’d also have to re-do the page on the memoir right away. And I was saved too much anguish on this score by getting sick.  In truth that rarely ever happens to this work-horse body.  Bronchitis.  Miserable coughs, incredible medicine, more involuntary vacation.  Not to mention some delirious nights of fitful sleep and a couple days unable to eat much of anything.  Bright side:  I lost five pounds.

Another bright side:  While I suffered and hacked, my green-and-white striped Dracaena, which I’d always called Hayworthiana but is probably Fragrans variegata (Cornstalk), has been blooming with clusters of small white flowers.  They’ve been opening in stages over the past few evenings, and their sweet fragrance infuses the apartment, like Cinderella, fading away by midnight.  I gently manhandle the clusters hoping to pollinate it.  And the perfume has comforted my ailing bronchia.

Actually this plant qualifies as an auld friend, or at least amiga vieja.  When co-worker friend Gina, who was so like my older daughter, gave it to me over thirty years ago, I named it after her.  Since its namesake Gina passed away about a decade ago, I’ve felt that the dear lady lingers in spirit with me still.  That’s why I hope there will be seeds.

If there are, they’ll probably produce the underlying species.  I expect so because in my earlier propagation work, I found variegation was a quirky genetic process usually only reproduced by stem-cuttings.  With jades, the green-and-white variegation works that way.  But oddly, if you simply start with a leaf, it sprouts all green, but quite a bit paler than your regular “money tree,” and with a more oblate and pointed leaf and quite massive trunk.  I grew one into a four-foot perfect specimen.

Forgive me for wandering off into plant talk.  After so many years running a salvage nursery, I have lots of such stories.  For years my greenhole teemed with exotics and experiments, the likes of which I’ve rarely seen since.  Imagine the stupendous eight-foot Begonia Lana, which was about six feet across and would easily have hit twelve tall without the pruning.  My amazing Euphorbia grandicornis, which I called “Longhorn,” grew into an unmanageable, dangerous tree.  The seeds grew like weeds.

In the greenhole

In the greenhole