Key West Gallery Hop

Harrison Gallery 825 White Street We began with this small gallery tucked away from the Duval Street madding crowd on quiet White Street. My companion, Rowland Bennett, longtime friend and librarian from Maplewood, New Jersey, and I had walked by it the day before and enjoyed peering in the window.

This time we were met in the tiny showroom by Helen Harrison, whose three-dimensional works were displayed along with paintings and photographs by others. I was drawn to Helen’s highly polished sculptures: giant fruits and other shapes which began with natural materials such as gourds or palm fronds but which now appeared to glow from within.

I also loved Helen’s studio, which we had to walk through to other parts of her gallery.Artists’ studios say so much about them–what inspires them, what’s on the walls, work in various stages. Despite my obvious lack of purchasing power–this is a pricy gallery–Helen graciously showed us everything, talked with us at length, and gave us a list of Key West galleries, at my request (my time was limited) checking off those I might like best.

Be sure to check out Helen Harrison’s work on her website:

Haitian Art Company 600 Frances Street We were walking back to the car when I spied another gallery just a block or so away with it’s corner windows full of bright primitive-looking paintings. I had to go in. This gallery was huge…room after room hung ceiling to floor with dazzling paintings, pictures sewn entirely in sequins, papier mache pieces, with prices from $75 (on sale) to (I think) $55,000 for an incredible large realistic painting hung over the entrance to one of the many small display rooms.

I preferred the passion and color of the more primitive, or folk, art, while Rowland was taken with the more controlled, finely crafted paintings. Both were plentiful. The person attending the gallery claimed it was “the largest collection of Haitian art outside of Haiti.” I believed him, especially after we were shown storerooms stacked with hundreds more canvases and informed that there was another storage area at another location stocking even more.

I was taken with this “tap tap” bus by Lionel Simonis, who was quite accomplished as a papier-mache artist, based in Jacmel, Haiti, until his death a few years ago. Check out more Haitian art on the company’s website,

Stay tuned for reviews of more Key West galleries I loved.

Radiation simulation I & CT Scan

The First Simulation
I was dreading the first simulation–one of two, the second scheduled five days after the first–because I understood that my arm would be positioned over my head for 45 minutes while a ‘cradle” was made to keep me in the same position every time. I’d also read a scary description of the machine in Good Harbor, (See Previous News Feb 07, 05). Well, not only is the long session the second session, making it unnecessary for me to have drugged myself with ibuprofen and vicodin, but the machine wasn’t scary at all. I thought it was pretty interesting, the way it moved around me, like a sicophant.

But one thing did hold true: radiation techs really are the kindest of any staff in the medical community, just as I’d been told. My two techs were soft spoken, patient, unhurried, and kind. This, in addition to being pretty zoned out, helped keep me comfortable while I lay, breast exposed and totally vulnerable, on a narrow hard table. But even that could have been worse. At least I only had to strip to the waist. I can remember when it didn’t matter what was wrong with you, you had to strip naked under a paper gown.

Still, I was very glad my friend Fran came along. Except for the end, when I was being X-rayed, she sat a few feet from me during all the positioning, marking (I have enough permanent marker tatoos to turn me into a motorcycle moll), and cradle forming. I was directed to keep the chest tape and markings intact (“But do shower; we’d appreciate it!) until my next simulation five days from now.

The ” cradle” was made inside a black garbage bag by adding water to some powder, which immediately puffed up and formed itself to my exact shape. It was very warm, which helped relax my shoulder, the victim of two rotator cuff injuries. Finished, it resembled a car safety seat for a preemie.

Best of all, they were on time. My appointment, made for 11:00 a.m., began at minutes before. My anxieties were completely unnecessary, at least this time. Piece of cake.

CT (“Cat”) Scan
My simulation, which I thought would be lengthy, was pretty quick–about half an hour. My “ten-minute” CT scan, however, took almost two hours. I was back in that hospital where I had my surgeries and which dazzled me with screwups. So I was grateful to have Fran around, a retired Washington Post editor, to be my witness. At least I knew I wouldn
‘t get stuck in a dark tunnel–that’s an MRI, a friend had assured me, a different imaging process.

I waited a long time in the little waiting room. Everyone was called on except me. I couldn’t inquire about the delay, because no one was in sitting behind the glass partition for about fifteen minutes. Finally, 45 minutes after my appointed hour, when someone appeared there, I inquired. “Have I been forgotten?” “What are you here for?” “A CT scan,” I said. “I’ll ask,” she said.

She returned five minutes later just as another woman entered, saying she was here for a CT scan. “Don’t hold your breath,” I said. “I’ve been here almost an hour and they haven’t gotten to me yet.” Meanwhile, the receptionist returned and told me “they are just setting up the table for you.”

They forgot. I’m sure they did. “Did they forget?” I asked. She colored and stammered, oh no. Then she is telling the woman who is also here for a CT scan that her appointment is for day after tomorrow. “That can’t be!” said the woman. “I was just sent here this afternoon.” But the receptionist insisted. Then the woman insisted. “They said it was too urgent to put off until Friday,” she said. “I was told to come here directly.” My god, I thought. Here her condition is so threatening that she can’t wait two days for a CT scan, and now they are telling her they won’t do it?

They finally come for me. After I change into gowns (waist up strip only), I’m put on a very narrow, very hard table, and fitted into the cradle that was formed this morning and which I brought with me. Fran was told to leave, because of the radiation. But no radiation happend for a long time; she could easily have stayed. For what seemed to me like about twenty minutes, a very young woman tried to “line up” the marks and tapes stuck to my chest during the morning’s simulation. She couldn’t seem to get it and eventually called in an even younger woman to stand on one side of me while she lined up the other. And then, without warning or expanation, everyone disappeared.

I waited for what seemed a long time–maybe five minutes. I had no idea what was happening, but sometime during the setting up, I’d been instructed not to move anything. If the scan wasn’t right, I’d have to return, not a pleasant thought. Phlegm from my three-week cold began gathering in the back of my throat. I felt an urgent need to cough. My left hand wanted to fall off the table. I said as loudly as I could, “What’s happening?” No one answered, my words swallowed into the room hum.

Finally, the machine, a large doughnut about three or four feet thick, came alive. Red lasers began to flash and a sign said not to look at them, so I closed my eyes. Slowly, for about five minutes, the table floated me into the giant O, then out, then back, then out. Finally, the tech returned and released me.

Fran was waiting in the hallway. “You know, while I was waiting for you, I asked the young man tech, in my most professional voice, why your CT scan was delayed for an hour. He seemed embarrassed, then said there was an emergency. I knew who she meant: I’d seen him holding his head in the glassed-off room next to me. He held it for so long and looked so ill that I asked someone if he was all right. I’d been told he had a headache. I don’t believe he was in the Emergency Room. I think he’d been ill. I wondered if he was awake enough to do the scan.

My god, no wonder I’m scared. The good news, however, is that none of today’s elaborate procedures hurt. Not at all.

Self-portrait 1

I used Dr. Martin’s liquid watercolors for this, and I’m not used to these..they didn’t dry quickly on my thick glossy paper but they sure did stain fast. There was no correcting anything. But this is just what I like about them–fast and loose.

So I love this portrait and plan to do more, experimenting as wildly as I dare and not worrying if the subject feels it’s unflattering.

Fort Lauderdale beach

I did two watercolor postcards while in Florida but send them off before I could scan them for my column. So here is one view inspired by a photograph I did while there, taken on a morning walk. Fort Lauderdale shocked me by its wall-to-wall concrete with only the tiniest patches of grass and a couple of saved natural parks to walk in. I began to appreciate the richness of our Great Lakes…so much outdoors left. But the long beaches were fun to walk, either on the beach or on the brick walk that snaked along the white waist-high wall.

I did this little 8 x 10 painting, or so it started out, entirely with Dr. Martin’s radiant liquid watercolors. They are really bright and stain well. I got impatient though and didn’t let all the layers dry quickly enough. The waves are white acrylic.

I like to shut my eyes and see this scene on the ceiling of my inner sight, glowing with the magic of a monitor.

Sarah Canary, by Karen Joy Fowler

Only toward the end of this novel was my credibility challenged. Karen Joy Fowler has a penchant for the incredible, both in reality and imagination. She combines them irresistibly in this fabulous novel, which I’d use in my Developmental English class next fall if the language wasn’t so challenging. This aspect of the book–the fabulously descriptive vocabulary–enhanced my own reading experience but I’m not sure my students could handle it.

How to describe this book? It’s the story of a Chinese railway worker in the West and a mysterious woman in an apparently seamless black dress who doesn’t speak but seems to inspire just about everyone, good and bad, to follow her. It’s sort of a grown-up Wizard of Oz story, as everyone heads for the Golden City, San Francisco, and their adventures along the way never fail to entertain. Even Emily Dickinson is enlisted as inspiration for every fictional chapter.

How did I miss this book, published fifteen years ago? I recommend it as a great summer read, travel read, or sick leave balm–any time you can drop everything without getting fired.

(PS…inspired by this author, I also bought and read another of her books, Before Women Had Wings. I hated this book…endless pages of child and wife abuse. There is a happy ending, but so what? It came too late for me. Perhaps this novel would appeal to persons who can more closely identify than I can.)

Good Harbor, by Anita Diamant

Diamant has clearly interviewed women who’ve been through the most common type of breast cancer diagnosis–DCIS, a noninvasive cancer that is contained within a milk duct and has not reached the nodes–which commonly involves a lumpectomy and radiation. Although the diagnosis is not exactly the same as mine–I had invasive ductal cancer that did not reach the nodes–the treatment is the same. Diamant has done her research.

Yet something was missing for me: the underlying authority of having been there. She knows the breast cancer experience in her head, but not in her bones. Reading this book about breast cancer for me is like reading about Paris from someone who never actually went there. The description of Kathleen’s reactions to her diagnosis, constant anxiety, annoyance with the inquiries of friends, none of that works for me. The first two months were definitely an emotionally chaotic time. Now, healed from the surgeries, I do experience those things, but in waves. I have cry days every couple of weeks, otherwise I feel pretty great. But I’m between treatments. This fab feeling may not last.

Another difference in my experience: My major negative emotion is not so much overall fear or even fear of death. My sharpest fear is lack of trust in the reliable competence of the medical community based on my experiences so far, but my strongest emotion is not fear at all, but grief, all the stages of which I seem to traverse for each little loss.

I don’t believe that I’ve been dealt a death sentence, although I may know a little more about how I might die than most people know–life, after all, is lethal for all of us. But breast cancer involves constant facing of the unknown, a scary journey that can be physically and emotionally painful (although you don’t know how painful until you get there), and the side effects of treatment are also unknown and are not the same for everyone.

Diamont did explore the way having a serious illness changes relationships, sometimes bringing one closer to old friends, introducing surprising new friendships, and causing some friends once thought close to flee. I’ve experienced all of this. So many heroes come out of the woodwork. So many people really will–really want to–help if you’ll just tell them how. Not knowing how to help or what to say, or not wanting to face their own vulnerability and illusion of perpetual health, has caused some friends to pretend that there’s nothing wrong, nothing really changed. The subject of my health is definitely off the list of acceptable conversational topics for some.

Relationships, Jewish community dynamics, and a wonderful feel for walking an ocean shore–something I also know quite a bit about–keep this book a good read. And the questions raised by the breast cancer issues and how I related to them was also of value, even if I didn’t agree. The only reason I might avoid reading it is that the description of Kathleen’s radiation treatments and her reaction to them–including a disabling depression–scared me a lot. Really a lot. Since I’m just about to start them, I can’t comment on whether I will react similarly. But stay tuned. I’ll let you know.

A Fine Time in Florida

To complicate matters further, I read quite a few books while flying in planes, sitting in airports, and lying on couches in both Fort Lauderdale (thanks to the kindness of friends) and Key West (more thanks to more kindness from more friends). In the next week, I shall attempt to review reading and experiences, with some nice links thrown in.

The picture was taken at the end of January by a snake charmer on the Riverwalk in Fort Lauderdale, whose name remains a mystery. (If you know him, please clue me in.) I met plenty of snake charmers during my Pakistani childhood, but none of them let me work my charms as well.