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The Fractured Dancer

The immigrant’s life is a fractured dance. It is the dance of a juggler or tightrope walker across oceans and continents, searching for home. With each step, the dancer decides: what to keep, what to sever, whom to embrace, whom to deny. Nothing is stable, everything requires a fresh definition. What is family? Where is home? Even after settling into a new land, the dancer continues to seek balance, facing the pressures and expectations of old and new relationships.

The challenges of life as an immigrant can bring heartbreak as well as hidden gifts. Cut off from the stability of a single homeland, immigrants can choose to make the best of both worlds. They can unearth wise perspectives in the interplay of cultures and discover the meaning of true family and friends. They can shape their own character through the process of learning a new language or way of being in the world, and taste the rare sweetness of many hard-won joys.

The dance of an immigrant may find its strength and balance, but it never stops. Even those who came here as children, as I did at the age of ten or my sister at the age of eight, find that their old homeland never completely disappears from memory, imagination, or environment. The old world is present in the new world, in family, in recipes, relationships, and dreams. A scent, a sound, a gesture can suddenly and unavoidably conjure it back into our senses.

The new world lives in the old world too, enfolded in ourselves when we return to visit, revealed in our American accents when we speak the mother tongue. We see, speak, and experience life in layers, one world entwined in the other, as indivisible as light from the sun. It is a messy, sloppy dance.

And yet I try to understand these layers in my life, to distinguish between what I was told to be and who I am. Painting is the space where I feel free to do so. I dreamed of painting as a small child in a different world, but had to wait many years to give birth to it, here. For me, painting is the chance to raise a new choreography of the spirit.

My three “Fractured Dancer” paintings can be viewed in the “Paintings” Gallery.

 

 

The Art of Nature

 

Walking to school as a seven-year-old “pioneer,” dressed in my Communist blue-and-white gingham uniform, I developed a secret ritual of the imagination. Every day, when I reached the corner where the massive apartment buildings opened to the park, I would look for the small, vibrant green shrubs that marked the entrance and freeze them in my memory. The process was simple: after a few seconds of intense observation, I would quickly shut my eyes and imprint the image in my mind, like the blink of a camera. I desperately wanted to capture such moments in my life, small glimpses of ephemeral nature.

 

Trees and leaves, fresh air and streams, somehow helped me feel more deeply the intensity of life, the blood in my veins, the breath in my lungs. They felt like coded messages from the unknown, divine spirit. So I hunted for nature in the concrete jungle of Communist cities, explored the Botanical Garden in my hometown, Iasi, with my family, and fell in love with expanses like George Enescu’s estate, or Floreasca and Chismigiu Parks in Bucharest.

 

We lived in an apartment on the tenth floor, the highest floor of a massive building, and since the elevator tended to stop between floors when the electricity was cut off, we often walked the flights of stairs down to the concrete area behind the building, where the children played. The few trees and plants were surrounded by a concrete fortress of apartments, the Communist mark of industrial “progress.”

 

But I knew what I was missing because as a small child, I had lived for six months and several summers at my grandparents’ village home. It was a house on the ground! With a courtyard for roses, lilies, grapes, and two wells, and another courtyard for the chickens and hens, and my favorite place – a vegetable and fruit garden in the back of the property, where I savored dill, lettuce, and strawberries. A house on the ground! Where I could wake up in the morning and run outside, play in the dirt, inspect every daisy with rapt attention, and “assist” my grandmother Sabina in the garden. My parents gave me a book, Sabina’s Garden, which I treasured and studied, imagining that one day I would tend my own. A house on the ground . . . this image obsessed me for years, and appeared over and over in my countless drawings, a house complete with a garden path, an orchard, and fresh air.

 

The Black Sea preoccupied me as well. I relished the scent of grilled fish, salt, and marigolds along the boardwalk, the vast expanse reaching out to mysterious worlds. And when we moved to the Jersey shore, the ocean air spoke to me, reminded me that I had at last reached the wet sand of one of those mysterious places. More importantly, it showed me that the wonder of nature does not respect political, national, or ethnic boundaries. When immersed in nature, everyone belongs by nature of being human. The earth, sky, and sea imprint in us a primal sense of home, because within them we can feel the course of life, unfolding, changing, shattering our rigid barriers. In nature, I am human, and that is all, that is enough. I am not Romanian, American, Communist child or Jersey girl. I am a child of the universe, in awe and reporting for duty.

 

In my paintings I try to capture what has captured me. The seductive underwater current shifting sea plants in the tropics, the glass surface of frozen trees reflected in a pond, the effervescence of coral in bloom, the war and peace of a harbor scented with salt. Why did I use salt in my watercolor paintings? I often wonder that. The decision was in large part experimental, asking, what does this do, and how can I push the limits? Where will it take me? Will it be like immersing my body in the salt water of the Atlantic or Pacific, or the Black Sea?

 

The deepest reason emerges from process, however. Painting with salt provides a more tactile conversation with nature. I control watercolor, but I deal more freely with salt, placing it where I want but letting it do its thing, so that I can then shape the result in a new way. And of course, I use sea salt.

 

To honor nature (human and otherwise) and the earth, I decided not to use any of the contaminating paints, those laced with heavy metals. In the process I discovered other ways in which to preserve and enhance the vivid qualities of paint.